What might have been

As a follow-up to my earlier article about where we are and how we got here where we’re going, it occurred to me that it might be thought-provoking to consider how things might have been different. I know some will say that looking back like this is pointless. But let’s consider an exercise in political analysis. If it is valid to speculate about the future in order to better understand what is happening now then it is also valid to review the past in the hope of finding guidance on how to avoid unfortunate outcomes. Taking things apart and putting them back together again in a different form is part of human nature. (Were it not so there would be no Lego.) Think of this as an alternative history in broad strokes.

One might have expected Scotland’s independence movement to be laid low be the result of the 2014 referendum. But even those involved in the various campaigning groups and organisations were taken aback by what actually happened. SNP membership soared. Yes groups not only remained intact but gained new recruits. New groups and organisations formed. Arguably, the Yes movement as a whole was never stronger than in the months following defeat in the 2014 referendum. The political leaders of the movement could, quite literally, have asked anything of Yes activists at that time and it would have been done in an instant. The power was palpable. It just needed to be directed.

Recognising the potential, the SNP convened a commission to review ever aspect of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, with particular focus on the Yes campaign. The review commission drew members from across the independence movement, More than a hundred people gave evidence and thousands of other made written submissions. The activities of the commission were credited with contributing to the SNP’s stunning victory in the 2015 UK general election when the party took 56 of the country’s 59 seats in the British parliament.

Mindful of the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2016 and urged to even greater effort by the forthcoming referendum on EU membership the review commission worked hard and fast producing a preliminary report by the end of January 2015 and its full findings only two months later. Initially, some parts of the report were not published. The argument was that criticisms of the Yes campaign strategy would be picked up on by the media and spun in the usual negative way. Likewise some of the suggestions and recommendations. After some debate, however, it was decided that openness was worth the price of the ‘bad press’ which was going to happen anyway and the full report was made public.

The main findings of the report were that, while the 2014 referendum had produced a result, it had not provided a decision. The deplorable conduct of the No campaign and the fact that it was unclear what a No vote actually meant required that a new referendum be held at the earliest possible date in order to properly determine the will of Scotland’s people. The commission recommended that the Scottish Government take the necessary step to ensure there would be a new referendum in September 2018.

Analysis of the campaign strategies and tactics of both sides produced some of the most controversial material in the report. Basically, what is said was that while the Yes campaign was good it was far from as effective as it might have been. And while the No campaign was appalling there was a great deal that could be learned from it.

The SNP leadership objected strongly to the verdict on a campaign for which the party was almost entirely responsible. Their position was that 2018 was too soon and that any future campaign should stick with the strategy that had increased support for independence by at least 50% in the course of the 2014 campaign. Others argued that delaying the referendum would allow the British government time to put more obstacles in the way of a vote and that it would be difficult to maintain the unity and enthusiasm of the Yes movement without the prospect of a new referendum in sight.

SNP leaders were also offended by the suggestion that their administration in Edinburgh might falter after a long period in office. Past examples which suggested that the sensible thing to do was to get out before the first big policy failure or public scandal. Given that the British government was intent on making life difficult for the SNP and digging frantically for something that could be made to look like dirt, the SNP administration was more susceptible than most to encountering problems in the coming years.

Pressure from delegates at two successive party conferences in late 2015 and spring 2016 forced the party bosses to back down to some extent. The Scottish Government would actively explore the possibility of a new referendum in September 2018 and it was agreed that the strategy for the campaign would be informed by the recommendations of the review commission. Nobody was happy. But very few were angry. What more could one hope for.

Then came the EU referendum. The impact of the result changed thinking about independence completely. Scotland’s vote to Remain being totally discounted and the Scottish Government being almost entirely excluded from the Brexit process were regarded, not only as signifiers of what the Union implied for Scotland, but as harbingers of what the British state intended for Scotland. The SNP quickly confirmed its support for a 2018 referendum. The Scottish Government began laying the legislative foundations for that referendum. And the decision was made that the new referendum would be totally different from the first one.

I say the decision was made. But, actually, it was more a case of it developing. The SNP had to play catch-up with the Yes movement which had matured greatly in the aftermath of the 2014 campaign. New skills had been learned – or discovered – and networking had been vastly improved. The Yes movement, while still retaining its character as a political movement, had developed the capacity to transform itself into a massive campaigning machine. A machine so powerful that even the ‘old-timers’ in the SNP had to defer to it.

One of the most crucial developments was the creation of a liaison committee bringing together the pro-independence political parties and the Yes movement. Two huge difficulties had to be overcome for this to be possible. The political parties – especially the SNP, for obvious reasons – needed to overcome it’s reluctance to be associated with any organisation it did not control. The Yes movement had to overcome its reluctance to appoint people who could speak for the entire movement. That both succeeded to the extent that they did is the single most important thing that made what followed possible.

With the backing of the Yes movement and a platform promising a new referendum, the SNP pulled off another remarkable victory in the 2017 snap UK general election, holding all but two of the seats they they previously held while, thanks to the vagaries of FPTP, actually increasing their share of the vote. British Nationalist tried to portray this as a massive defeat for the SNP and a setback for the independence cause, but even some in the British media weren’t buying it. The public certainly weren’t. In Scotland, the mood for change was growing.

Things moved rapidly after that. The Scottish Government let it be known that if a Section 30 order was not forthcoming it would press ahead with the referendum in September 2018 regardless. It was made clear that any attempt to stop the referendum would be defied and any challenge to the result would be met and defeated. After much ado, the Scottish Parliament, where the SNP still had a working majority and the support (mostly) of the Scottish Greens, passed a proposal to dissolve the Union with England subject to a referendum to be held on Thursday 20 September 2018 in which Scotland’s voters would be asked whether they agreed with this proposal – Yes or No.

The UK Government, after much huffing and puffing, backed down. Their first strategy of encouraging a Unionist boycott was abandoned when several Scottish Labour MSPs and even one Tory refused to join the boycott campaign. It was shunned also by much of civic Scotland and quite sharply criticised by the Electoral Commission. In addition, there was no mood for it in Scotland. In part this may have been due to the referendum legislation which stated that the result would stand so long as turnout was above 80% and that if the turnout reached 65% despite a boycott then the referendum would be rerun within a year.

Much to the very vocal annoyance of hard-line Unionsists, the UK Government stated that it would not challenge the referendum result so long as the upper turnout figure was met and any Yes vote was “decisive”. They would, however, take whatever steps were necessary to ensure that there would be no rerun should turnout fall below 80%. The thinking was that the political cost of obstruct would be greater than was warranted given their ability to ensure that the referendum didn’t succeed. It was a gamble. But the strategists and campaign managers reckoned that they could hold just enough of the No vote from 2014 and deter just enough people from voting – even without a formal boycott – to ensure the vile separatists were defeated. They were wrong. We now know how wrong they were.

Support for independence in the polls had jumped 5 points when the Scottish Parliament passed the proposal to end the Union. Subsequently, it stayed steady at between 50 and 55%. A low-level campaign had, of course, been running for a year or more. By the time the official campaign period started, it was clear what the Yes strategy would be. Following the recommendations of the review commission, a two-pronged effort was launched. One strand of the campaign would focus on the “positive” case for independence but, instead of getting bogged down in policy debates that had no relevance to the constitutional issue, would focus on the powers of the Scottish Parliament; building on what was known about people’s preferences for where decisions were made. Independence would hardly be mentioned. It would be about bringing Scotland’s government home.

The second strand would be the “negative” stuff that was almost entirely left out in the 2014. It would be an anti-Union campaign focusing on the ways in which the Union is detrimental to Scotland. This, together with the way the ballot was to be framed, would ensure that the anti-independence side were put on the back foot, forced to defend the Union rather than attack the idea of independence – which was difficult to target anyway now that it wasn’t being talked about by the Yes side.

Importantly, the form of the campaign strategy allowed the Yes movement to unite and focus and stay on-message. No longer did we have the multitude of competing ‘visions’ of independence which so fatally diluted the first Yes campaign. Everybody now could focus on specific powers that should rest with the Scottish Parliament and/or any of a range of lines of attack on the Union.

The result was 69% Yes on a turnout of 82%. And the rest is alternative history.

That was fun!



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Out of time

I probably shouldn’t dwell on it, but I can’t help pondering how different things might have been if we’d had a new independence referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018. Looking back may be futile. But looking to the future has rarely been more disturbing and depressing. So indulge me! Allow me this brief reverie. Who knows? It may even prove illuminating.

Suppose we’d had that referendum in 2018. Suppose we’d won. Four months on we’d be well into the process of getting Scotland out of the Union – instead of being in the position of desperately struggling to keep Scotland in the EU – in keeping with the wishes of 62% of the Scottish voters who expressed a preference in the 2016 EU referendum.

If the Brexit process hadn’t ground to a total halt as everybody tried to figure out the implications of the decision to normalise Scotland’s constitutional status then at least we wouldn’t be part of the mess. By now, we might well have agreement from the EU that Scotland would effectively be treated as the continuing state after 29 March 2019.

There is no reason to suppose that the British government’s handling of the Brexit process would have been any less catastrophically inept. Scotland’s elected representatives – along with those of the other ‘peripheral’ parts of the UK – had been denied any meaningful role in the process. So taking them out of the equation with a Yes vote couldn’t really make much difference. Of course, the (r)UK position would be considerably weaker given that they could not claim to speak for Scotland. And given that they would no longer have any claim on Scotland’s resources. But it’s hard to imagine how this could make things any worse than May and her fractious rabble managed even while the UK was relatively intact.

Obviously, there would still be ‘issues’. Many of these would impinge on Scotland. But, as a de facto independent nation, we would have effective input. We would have a say in how these issues were resolved. Scotland’s interests would be represented in a way they never could be as a mere adjunct of England. Which is not to say that we would get everything we wanted from either the EU or the rump UK. But whatever compromises were made would be our compromises. They wouldn’t be compromises made on our behalf without consultation or consideration.

We might well suppose that the departure from the EU of those who actually voted for this – England and Wales – would be made easier in our imagined scenario. It is at least probable that a Yes vote in Scotland’s referendum would prompt a reunification vote in Ireland. Thus resolving cleanly, democratically, peacefully and in a most rational manner, the Irish border/ Good Friday Agreement problem which has been the greatest obstacle to a Withdrawal Agreement not wholly reliant on Santa Claus pulling some ‘alternative arrangements’ out of his sack. (You’ll understand that I didn’t really want to write ‘sack’.)

Had Scotland voted Yes on Thursday 20 September 2018, the increasingly ludicrous Brexit farce played out in Westminster and in the media over the last few months would have been largely avoided. Although this may be to underestimate the capacity of the British political elite to render farcical pretty much anything it is associated with. But this is my reverie. So I get to give them the benefit of whatever doubt I can scrape up. I elect to suppose that, as January 2019 passes, the Brexit thing would be going swimmingly. Even if some way from Olympic-standard synchronised swimming.

Then there’s the parallel negotiations between Scotland and rUK and between Scotland and the EU. The latter would be at an advanced stage by now. With Scotland taking on the UK’s membership of the EU there really wouldn’t be that much to negotiate. Think of it as Scotland inheriting the UK’s EU member’s uniform and having it adjusted to fit. Given that whatever negotiations were required would be conducted in a spirit of trust and constructive good will, there would surely be no impediment to reaching agreement amicably and rapidly. Instead of regarding 29 March with dread, we would be looking forward to Scotland taking its place as an independent nation in the European Union.

As such, Scotland would require a written constitution. An interim constitution to take effect on Independence Day is little more than a formality. It need only establish the basics – which are uncontroversial. We know they are uncontroversial because, if they were at all controversial they wouldn’t belong in an interim constitution. Work on a full draft constitution is ongoing and we can anticipate this this would have accelerated following the Yes vote last September.

It’s more difficult to say what would be happening on the rUK front. British Nationalists have vowed all manner of retribution should Scotland’s people presume to assert their sovereignty. But I seriously doubt that there will be UK Border Agency machine gun towers along the border and RAF bombs raining down on Glasgow Airport. It’s possible that aliens might take advantage of the situation to launch the invasion of Scotland they’ve been planning since Grmthul descended from Blntrmed with the Cclt of Dryf. We’ll take our chances with a bit of intergalactic conflict. We’ll have more immediate, and proximate, ‘foes’ to deal with. Although some of them do have the appearance of alien creatures struggling to maintain human form. Aye! That’s you, Michael Gove!

In reality, or as close to it as we might get in a purely hypothetical exercise, the British establishment is likely to opt for a rather more pragmatic approach than is to be found in the spittle-flecked rhetoric of British Nationalist fanatics. There’s every chance the British political elite will claim independence was being gifted to Scotland by an endlessly beneficent British state which had, of course, always respected the democratic right of Scotland’s people to choose their nation’s status and the form of government that best suits their needs. In much the same way as the 2014 referendum was graciously presented to Scotland by a kindly British Prime Minister, and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

There is no rational reason why dissolving the Union should not be a fairly straightforward matter. It’s not like there isn’t a lot of precedent to draw on. It’s basically a question of attitude. The Brexit mess may give cause to doubt that British politicians are capable of the spirit of trust and constructive good will I mentioned earlier. But we can help them find that spirit by presenting them with as conclusive a Yes vote as we can muster. Assuming an effective registration drive, 60% of an 85% turnout would suffice. That’s 51% of the electorate. 65%, or just over 55% of the electorate would be better. 70% (59.5%) would silence all but the most fanatical British Nationalists and force the British political elite to behave like grown-ups. Or, perhaps, delegate that task to professional civil servants.

Had we voted Yes in a referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018, we could now be be in a place indistinguishable from that where we find ourselves at the start of February 2019. We could be assured of our EU membership, with all the positives that this implies for our economy and society. Our EU citizenship would be secure. Our freedom of movement would be secure. Our access to the single market would be secure. More importantly, these things would be secured on terms freely negotiated by the people elected or appointed to represent Scotland. Politicians and civil servants whose imperatives are informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

And what if we’d voted No in September 2014? Well, we’d surely be pretty much where we are now. We really had nothing to lose.

Of course, British Nationalists would be bawling about how this had killed the independence movement ‘stone dead’. Rhetoric which would, if history is any guide, be parroted by many in the Yes movement. But these protestations would be no more valid after two referendums than at any other time. However often the people of Scotland inexplicably vote to remain shackled to the British state, they cannot vote away the right of self-determination that is vested wholly in the people to be exercised entirely at their discretion. In terms of the cause of independence, a No vote in a referendum is merely a setback. It does nothing more than delay the inevitable. And the authority to determine the duration of that delay lies entirely with the Scottish people.

Had we voted No in September 2018 we’d be facing precisely the same threat to Scotland’s democracy that confronts us now. We’d be getting dragged out of the EU. Just as we are now. We’d be listening to warnings about shortages of food and medicine. Just as we are now. We’d be looking at the prospect of economic chaos and civil disturbance and martial law. Just as we are now. We’d be seeing powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament and anticipating further assaults on our democratic institutions. Just as we are now. We’d be f***ed! Just as we are now.

But at least we’d have tried to avoid all this. At least we’d have made the effort. At least we’d have shown some resolve to save Scotland from the depredations that come with the Union.

Now, it may be too late. Awakening from my reverie, I must face the reality that we are, if not already too late, then fast approaching a point when that will be the case. It is unlikely that anything other than the most bold and assertive action by the First Minister can possibly prevent us being dragged out of the EU – with all that this implies. None of it good.

Nicola Sturgeon seems no more disposed to take such action than she did in September 2018. Despite everything that has happened since that regrettable outcome in 2014, and despite the real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy and identity, the SNP administration’s attitude to taking the cause of independence forward appears unchanged. Their strategy is still a mystery. Their intentions unclear.

Right now, we have even less to lose by bold, decisive action than we did last September. Right now, the threat is greater than it has ever been. Right now, the need for urgency should be absolutely compelling. But I see little sign that any of this has touched our political leaders.

We are almost out of time. And I don’t know if I can face the prospect of sitting here in four months time contemplating what might have been.


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It depends

snp_conferenceLike most people, I suspect, I have totally given up on the entire Brexit shambles. And I’m increasingly perplexed as to why, in public at least, the First Minister persists in behaving as if there was some Brexit outcome that might have a significant bearing on the constitutional issue. Does she genuinely suppose that there might be a ‘deal’ which makes independence less necessary? Does she imagine there to be the remotest possibility of an outcome which makes it less urgent that we put an end to the Union?

What “detail” could the UK Government offer about “post-Brexit Britain” which might make it a less dire and depressing prospect? What reason is there to believe that October will bring any more clarity than has been provided to date? Has that been the trend so far? Has the Brexit process been characterised by increasing lucidity?

What might Theresa May say in October which could alter the fact that Scotland voted Remain by a substantial majority? What might she offer that could compensate for the lies, smears, insults, intimidation and empty promises by which a No vote was secured in 2014? How might she undo all the ways in which the British establishment has demonstrated its contempt for Scotland, its Parliament and its people?

What might happen between now and October which could rectify the asymmetry of power which means that Scotland’s interests can never be adequately represented within the UK? For more than three hundred years the Union has served as a device by which the people of Scotland are prevented from exercising the sovereignty which is theirs by right. Does Theresa May give the impression of being the individual who is going to change that situation in the course of a few weeks?

It now seems certain that Nicola Sturgeon has chosen not to seize the opportunity to hold a new referendum in September. It looks increasingly unlikely that it will even be this year. It appears that she has opted not to seize the initiative, but to listen instead to the siren voices around her urging that we constantly wait to see what the British government does next. Then wait some more to see what they do after that. Then put off doing anything until we see how that pans out. Then postpone a decision until…. And so it goes on.

It is a policy of self-perpetuating prevarication. Once an excuse has been found for inaction, that excuse then forms the basis for the next excuse. Before long, the burden shifts from those insisting on delay to those demanding action. When we stop asking how long we must wait for the new referendum and start asking why we shouldn’t wait even longer then the cause of independence is becalmed, if not sunk.

Nicola Sturgeon has spoken the words I dreaded to hear. When asked about plans for a second referendum she says only that ‘it depends’. What is troubling is that it appears to depend on all the wrong things. It depends on what the British government does, rather than what Scotland needs. The First Minister seems to be relying on the Brexit process creating the circumstances for a new referendum. She seems to have lost sight of the fact that those circumstances already exist. They have existed for a very long time. They are the reason her party was formed. They are the reason she’s where she is.


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I despair!

referendum_2018_petitionIn all this talk of postponing the new referendum, whether it be until 2019 or 2021 or 2022, I see no explanation of how those commending delay propose to deal with the measures that the UK Government will surely implement in order to make a referendum impossible or unwinnable or both. It’s as if they think the British state is a benign entity which is just going to sit back and wait until we get our act together. It’s as if they are dumbly unaware that locking Scotland into a unilaterally redefined political union is one of the principal imperatives driving British policy.

How do we even know there will be any Holyrood elections in 2021? How do we know there will be any Scottish Parliament in 2021? And, even if it is allowed to survive while the Postponers are warming their fiddle-fingers at the bonfire of Scotland’s democracy, how can anyone even begin to imagine that it won’t have been stripped of the power to call a referendum?

At a minimum, all the British political elite would have to do is transfer powers over the franchise to the new unelected and unaccountable shadow administration under David Mundell.

But STILL the Postponers have absolutely nothing to say about such matters. They are so wrapped up in trying to think of ways to game the British political system it never occurs to them that there is actually no reason at all why we should be playing according to the rules of that system.

Worse! They genuinely seem to suppose that the ‘right time’ for a new referendum will just magically emerge from conditions which – by THEIR choice! – are all but entirely determined by forces that are intractably opposed to the people of Scotland EVER being permitted to exercise their right of self-determination.

I despair!


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It’s what we make it

saltire_breakoutI have news for Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp. Brexit is not the only thing happening in the world. It’s not even the only thing happening in Scotland. Were he but able to tear his attention away from Brexit for a second he might notice a few other things going on. Things that might just throw his nice tidy independence timeline into disarray.

Scour that timeline as you may, you will find no mention of the steps the British government will be taking in order to make a new independence referendum impossible or unwinnable of both. Which is odd given that Gordon otherwise seems to suppose the British government to be the only effective actor in all of politics. His timeline is almost entirely a tale of what the British elite does, and how the Scottish Government might react.

No account is taken of the fact that the British state has already started to strip powers from the Scottish Parliament and explicitly signalled its intention to further undermine Scotland’s democratic institutions. The timeline totally ignores the unelected and unaccountable shadow administration under David Mundell which is being readied to take over powers stripped from Holyrood. It blithely disregards things like the transfer to the ‘UK Government in Scotland’ of powers over the franchise. Simply by excluding 16 and 17-year olds Mundell could deal a crippling blow to any new independence referendum. And that’s just one example. Spend a few moments reflecting, in a way Gordon signally fails to do, on the myriad ways the British government might seek to thwart the democratic process.

It seems that the whole Brexit bourach looms so large in Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s view that he seems oblivious to the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project that is running in parallel with it. A project which, more importantly, would be proceeding regardless of Brexit. Concern for the economic impact of Brexit is understandable. But it should not blind us to the fundamental constitutional issue and the threat to Scotland’s democracy.

While the casual disregard for this real and imminent constitutional threat is perplexing, the stuff about asking for a Section 30 Order is just bloody annoying. I know that Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is fully aware of the importance of reframing the arguments for the new referendum. He knows what reframing means. He is well aware of how it works. He appreciates that it involves altering perceptions by changing the way an issue is presented. So why is he still mired in the now outmoded mindset of the 2014 referendum? Why is he still thinking in terms of independence being something that is in the gift of the British state, rather than something that is Scotland’s natural right?

Why does he continue to maintain that Scotland’s constitutional status has to be negotiated with the British government as if it required their agreement, rather than simply the expressed will of Scotland’s people?

Why does he so readily accept the notion that the British political elite might have the legitimate authority to veto the right of self-determination that is vested wholly in the people of Scotland?

We do not need Westminster’s permission to exercise our right of self-determination. We don’t need the British political elite’s approval to end a political union in which we are equal partners. The British has neither the right nor the authority to demand that we pass some contrived test in order to qualify for independence. Unless, of course, we afford them that authority. Unless we choose to concede that right.

The approach outlined by Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is demeaning. The time for asking is past. This is the time for taking.

More and more people in the Yes movement are coming to this conclusion. The idea of Scotland as a supplicant petitioning a superior power for the granting of a constitutional boon is being rejected as inappropriate, offensive and politically ill-judged.

Which brings us to the final flaw in Gordon’s independence timeline. As well as neglecting to have due regard for the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project and woefully failing to reframe the issue, no account is taken of the momentum building in the Yes movement. Across Scotland, thousands of individuals and groups are poised, ready for a new referendum campaign. How long does Gordon imagine the enthusiasm and energy can be kept on hold? The reserves are not infinite. At some point, either the dam bursts or the reserves begin to deplete faster than they can be replenished.

People will weary of waiting. They need to act. They will tire of marching. They need to get somewhere. They will only endure so much. They need to see an end to it.

It is time for bold, decisive, assertive action. It is time to do, rather than be done to. It is time for defiance, not compliance. It is time to assert the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. It is time to dissolve the Union and dare the British political elite to stand in Scotland’s way.


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What do we want?

scotlands_parliamentMost people in Scotland want independence. They just don’t realise that the thing they want is called independence. They would vote for the powers that come with independence. But they shy away from voting for independence itself. Why is this?

In part,of course, it is because the British propaganda machine has been working very hard for a considerable time to make independence seem like a big scary thing. The status that other nations regard as normal is, in Scotland’s case, portrayed as a dark and dangerous condition fraught with uncertainty and risk.

But the Yes movement must also take some responsibility for the strange contradiction whereby people say they want the Holyrood to have the powers of the Parliament of an independent nations, but without Scotland being an independent nation. The Yes campaign in the 2014 referendum and since has allowed the British state’s portrayal of independence to go unchallenged. We tried to concoct a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ range of of independence ‘flavours’ so there might be a version that each individual and group could get behind. We should have been working to get everybody behind the one simple idea of independence.

It would be gratifying to think lessons have been learned. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have. We still have different parts of the Yes movement treating independence as a massively complex issue and promoting a plethora of highly detailed ‘solutions’. We still have too many groups competing with each other as they try to sell their particular brand of independence.

This reflects the diverse, open, unconstrained nature of the Yes movement. That is important and must be preserved. But the Yes campaign has to be different. It has to be unified, focused and disciplined.

If the Yes movement is to be the force behind an effective Yes campaign, it must unite around a single, clear, concise concept of independence. It must concentrate all its efforts on promoting a common vision. It must find leadership without adopting leaders.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, the Yes movement has to reframe the issue. We must rid ourselves of the mindset which has us asking the British state to lend its powers to the Scottish Parliament. We must develop a mindset which has us demanding powers which rightfully belong to us, but which are being wrongfully withheld by the British state.

The people of Scotland are sovereign. The Union is an impediment to the exercise of that sovereignty. The solution is to dissolve the Union.


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The death of truth

Just thought I’d drop this into the current discussion about the condition of media and journalism in Scotland and elsewhere. It’s an extract from an article titled The death of truth which first appeared in the March 2017 issue of iScot Magazine.

Isn’t there an irony – delicious or distasteful according to personal taste – in the fact that the propagators of fake news are elevating themselves to the status of noble heroes defending their right to propagate fake news against a politically-motivated onslaught that deploys fake news as one of its principal weapons?

For all this, there remains a sense that there is something different about the present morass, as compared with previous morasses. This, it seems to me, is not adequately captured by anything in the currently fashionable journalistic lexicon. Not ‘fake news’. Not ‘post-truth’. Not even ‘anti-truth’ – which, I confess, was the term for which I first reached when seeking to pin down a concept that I found rather elusive.

While researching the term, I encountered some interesting comments from an Indian blogger going by the name, Factorator. Interesting, not least for the fact that they were writing about Indian politics – demonstrating that the phenomena under discussion are by no means exclusive to the West. I am taking the liberty of quoting at length.

Can deliberate and selective subversion of facts, irrespective of the frequency of their occurrence or the severity of their impact, lead to establishing a narrative contrary to reality? Is post-truth actually ‘forced-truth’?

But here’s the real deal. Picture a situation where lies about one side are ceaselessly repeated and inconvenient facts about the other are diligently suppressed. Can this be the potential force-multiplier that opens up a vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception? Can it create an artificial, alternate version of contemporary events suited to the interests of a cartel?

As an observer of Scottish politics and, in particular, the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence, these two paragraphs resonated like some planet-sized bell. I have never read a better description of the British state’s anti-independence propaganda campaign. It could be the mission statement for Better Together/Project Fear.

It also serves as a very adequate summary of a situation that goes well beyond Scotland’s politics and Scotland’s borders. At minimum, it captions US and UK politics with disturbing accuracy.

And yet, I’m still left with this nagging feeling that there is something more. It seems not enough to say that truth is being supplanted. That it is being overwhelmed by a “narrative contrary to reality”. For all its vivid persuasiveness, the concept of a “vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception” is wanting. Possibly because it leaves reality distanced, but intact. And the sense I get is, not of truth being set-aside or distorted or obscured, but of truth being demolished. Obliterated. Eradicated.

Neither ‘post-truth’ nor ‘anti-truth’ do justice to what is going on. We need a new word to refer to the destruction of truth. A word that conveys the uncreation of reality. A word that speaks of the death of truth. The killing of truth. The murder of truth.


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Shall there be a Scottish Parliament?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Wincing and recoiling

snp_conferenceDo you ever read something that makes you physically wince? I flinched twice reading George Kerevan’s article. I cringed when i read this “the Scots electorate (mercifully) is having a year off”. Aye, George! Because voting is such an onerous task we should be glad of anti-democratic British Nationalists like Ruth Davidson who want to relieve us of the chore. Participating in the democratic process is such a burden we should happily do the bidding of those who advise us to sit down, shut up and eat our cereal.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was some way we could all just disengage from politics altogether? Wouldn’t it be great if there was some elite prepared to relieve us of the need to think about all that politics stuff? Wouldn’t it be a mercy if we were given two years off from the grind of democracy? Or five? Or fifty?

That five minute walk to the polling place is hellish enough. But then they make you pick up a pencil and make a mark on a bit of paper! Sometimes, you even have to think about where you’re putting that cross! (Yes! A cross! That’s two – count them! – TWO pencil strokes!) And you might be asked to do this TWICE in the one year! It’s inhuman!

Of course, it’s not just the voting that’s a massive imposition. All that politics nonsense takes up so much space in the newspapers and so much airtime on TV and radio. Think how much more sport there could be in the papers if it weren’t for all those column inches being devoted to stuff about health and education and welfare. Think how many more soaps could be crammed into a day if they would just stop putting politicians on. Who needs it? We pay those politicians to run the country. Can they not just get on with it? Do they have to be pestering us all the time?

I’d barely recovered from the physical impact of that little gobbet of thoughtlessness when I was made to recoil again; this time at the suggestion that,

This upcoming spring conference will be the last at which the SNP top brass can remain silent on the referendum question.

What!? The SNP leadership can remain silent about the new referendum at next month’s conference!? They can get through the whole two days without so much as mentioning it!? As they say on Twitter, WTF!?

I know George noticed the All Under One Banner march in Glasgow on Saturday 5 May. I know he’s aware of it, because he mentions it in the very next sentence. What does he think those 50,000 people were marching for? Longer tea-breaks!?

In theory, I suppose it’s possible that there were people on that march whose enthusiasm for independence wasn’t matched by a sense of urgency. It was a very large gathering. Perhaps I missed the banners saying ‘POSTPONE THE REFERENDUM’. Maybe I failed to hear the chants of, ‘what do we want? Independence! When do we want it? When Pete Wishart is satisfied that we can’t possibly lose!’.

Or perhaps I read the mood correctly. Perhaps there was a feeling of urgency in the air. Perhaps there is an expectation that the SNP will respond to that sense of urgency. Perhaps a large proportion of those people are anticipation something more than silence on the referendum question when the party meets in Aberdeen next month. Perhaps a significant number of those people will be bloody annoyed if all they get is silence from the “SNP top brass”.

One thing I can say for certain about the people on that march – they know the value of participative democracy. They don’t think of participation in the democratic process as a chore to be avoided if at all possible. They aren’t content to sit down, shut up and eat their cereal. That march was democracy in action. Those people, and the thousands more who were with them in spirit, were insisting on having their say.

The SNP leadership better be listening. And they damn well better have a good response. Silence will not satisfy those people. Silence is not an option.


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Backing off

pw_holdWe have here a curious instance of someone getting the point, then losing it. Pete Wishart lights upon a highly significant observation, only to immediately walk away from it in his eagerness to get back to comfortable and comforting platitudes about “new independence case”.

Difficult as it may be for some to believe, there was a time when there were genuinely Scottish Conservatives who really were regarded as the defenders of ‘Scottishness’. As Pete acknowledges, in the decades following WW2 that ‘Scottishness’ was threatened by a “pervasive, unifying British identity”. It was Conservatives, and particularly rural Conservatives, who stood for all that was distinctively Scottish.

In part, those Scottish Conservatives were standing against the homogenising influence of post-war socialism. But they were also resisting the rise – or should we better say, the resurrection – of a form of British identity which had its roots in the idea of the UK as a ‘Greater England’ within which all the constituent parts, but particularly Scotland, were to be subsumed.

Sound familiar? What those Scottish Conservatives were resisting was an earlier, less aggressive, less extreme form of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which today threatens Scotland’s distinctiveness.

This is, of course, an oversimplification. But there is an essential truth here which Pete Wishart first notes, then chooses to disregard. The Scottish Conservatives of that post-war era won support in rural Scotland (and to some extent in urban areas as well) in large part because they tapped into a popular mood which valued Scottish distinctiveness and rejected the concept of a ‘One Nation’ British state.

What is perplexing is that, having picked up on something which has obvious relevance to the constitutional debate today, Pete Wishart declines to explore its implications. If opposition to ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism was a significant influence on attitudes and electoral choices in rural Scotland then, might it not be an important consideration now? If people in rural communities placed such value on ‘Scottishness’ then, is it not reasonable to assume that they might still do so?

Of course, that was fifty years ago. Times have changed. But have those attitudes also changed? Is that not, at the very least, a question worth asking?

The Scottish Conservatives have certainly changed. In fact, they no longer exist as a political party. As part of the blight of Thatcherism, they were absorbed into the British Tories. Today, the term ‘Scottish Conservatives’ is as much a deceptive misnomer as ‘Scottish Labour’. But the popular regard for Scottish distinctiveness that helped fuel electoral support for Scottish Conservatives half a century ago hasn’t necessarily disappeared along with distinctive Scottish Conservatism. In fact, subsequent SNP electoral success in former Scottish Conservative strongholds such as Perthshire suggests that this desire to maintain a distinct Scottish identity may still be a powerful motivating factor for voters.

Might it not, therefore, be a latent force for Scotland’s independence campaign? If the Scottish Conservatives of old could tap into a vein of opposition to the threat of a “pervasive, unifying British identity” back then, why should the independence movement not exploit that same well of popular feeling today?

Other things have changed since a vote for the Scottish Conservatives meant a vote for ‘Scottishness’. Scotland’s distinctiveness has changed dramatically in both form and degree. Whatever ‘Scottishness’ meant fifty years ago, today it refers to a distinctive political culture. To whatever were the historical and cultural connotations of the term has been added a brand of politics which contrasts starkly with that of the British state. A more progressive and humane politics which is increasingly at odds with the harshness and coldness and downright cruelty of British politics.

There is more that is distinctive now than there was then. More that is worth defending.

The threat has also changed. The “pervasive, unifying British identity” has metamorphosed into an ugly, bitter brand of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which poses a real and imminent threat, not only to Scotland’s distinctive political culture, but to the very democratic institutions and process which have been the source of that distinctiveness. British Nationalism is no longer merely concerned with suppressing ‘Scottishness’. It seeks to destroy ‘Scottishness’ at its roots.

The threat is greater now. There is more that must be resisted.

The obvious conclusion from all of this is that the Yes campaign should take the form of a bastion against the threat posed by this pernicious British Nationalist ideology. What would seem to logically follow from the first part of Pete Wishart’s analysis is that the Yes campaign should go on the attack against a project which would subsume Scotland into a homogenised British state.

I surely can’t be the only one who is perplexed at the way Pete Wishart side-steps the pachyderm in the parlour to get to the comfy chair of his preconceived notions about a “new independence case”.

Even if there was anything “new” to be said about independence, what is the point of presenting this to people who aren’t listening because they’ve already decided that independence isn’t happening? What purpose is served by putting all the resources of the Yes campaign into polishing a proposition which is already as perfect as any political proposition might be?

Why is Pete Wishart so resistant to the idea of doing something new? He almost makes the case for a Yes campaign focused on vigorously defending what Scotland has and aggressively attacking that which puts it in jeopardy. But then he backs off from this and takes refuge in a rather less politically ‘brave’ obsession with being ‘positive’. He almost gets there. But then he chooses to let the British Nationalists off the hook. Why?


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