Treachery abounds

No part of the British establishment can be trusted. The imperative to preserve their ‘precious’ Union overrides all considerations of ethics, morality, decency and democratic principle. They will, quite literally, do anything to ensure that Scotland remains locked in a political union which denies the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and leaves the nation at the mercy of a disreputable and dysfunctional British political elite.

Or so we must assume. With so much at stake, we simply cannot afford to trust the British government or any of its agencies. We would be foolishly irresponsible to place any faith in the British political parties, wherein devotion to the Union and vaunting British exceptionalism combine with partisan loyalty and naked self-interest to create a noisome medium for breeding treachery.

Until the day that Scotland’s independence is restored we must proceed on the assumption that the entire apparatus of the British state is set on preventing this ever happening. Given that this is so, it was only to be expected that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) would try and throw a big British Nationalist spanner in the machinery of the Referendums Bill. A Unionist boycott of a new independence referendum was always a strong possibility. James Kelly’s amendment is a totally transparent attempt to facilitate and encourage such a boycott and to increase the chances of it successfully wrecking the referendum.

It is somehow fitting that it should be Kelly who is introducing the amendment. Perhaps more than any other BLiS politician, he personifies the intellect-crippling hatred of the SNP and ingrained sense of entitlement which has so comprehensively alienated voters. But if it hadn’t been him, there are plenty of others among the British Nationalists squatting in the Scottish Parliament who would have relished the opportunity to help diminish and destroy Scotland’s democracy.

And if it hadn’t happened now, it would surely happen at some other time. Probably on many occasions. We can expect repeated attempts to prevent a new independence referendum completely or, failing that, to put ever greater obstacles in the way of a Yes vote. We can anticipate that, should a Section 30 order ever be granted, it will come so bound up and weighed down with conditions as to render a fair plebiscite impossible. The British establishment will only enable a new referendum on the strict condition that it does not pose a threat to their precious Union.

Many people are asking whether, as an agency of the British state, the Electoral Commission can be relied upon to be completely fair and impartial. This is not to suggest that there would be any deliberate attempt to favour the Union. But the entire British establishment is steeped in British Nationalist ideology. It must have some effect. So it is somewhat worrying to find Mike Russell pandering to the British Electoral Commission’s insistence that it must have a role in Scotland’s referendum.

The compromise that Mr Russell is offering may seem reasonable to some. But no compromise is acceptable to those of us who have learned not to trust any part of the British establishment. To those of us who maintain that, to counter the inevitable treachery, the new independence referendum must be entirely made and managed in Scotland, no level or form of British state involvement is acceptable.

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Where is the spirit?

Truly depressing stuff from Nicola Sturgeon. I read the headline ‘This was the day independence became completely inevitable‘ and immediately supposed our First Minister was at last going to say something that at least hinted at the possibility that she might be on the verge of considering actually doing something to bring about the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But, having scoured the article all I find is well-worn platitudes and stern condemnation tagged on as an afterthought to yet more of our First Minister’s obsession with England’s Brexit.

Of course, Brexit will adversely affect Scotland. But only if we, the people of Scotland allow it. And to prevent it we need our First Minister to step up. We need her to be bold and decisive. We need her to be entirely focused on Scotland’s cause and not the forlorn cause of trying to rescue England from the consequences of its own democratic choices.

It is patent nonsense to say that “a No-Deal Brexit was not on the ballot paper in 2016”. Of course it bloody was! It is the default outcome of invoking Article 50. If England’s voters were unaware of this before the 2016 EU referendum then that’s down to their politicians, their media and their own reluctance to make an effort to inform themselves. But the result of that referendum stands regardless.

The people of England are getting precisely what they voted for. And it is being delivered by politicians who have all the mandate the British political system requires. What Boris Johnson is doing may be outrageous, but in terms of the ‘British constitution’ it is totally legitimate.

So why is Scotland’s First Minister – whose first responsibility is, by definition, to Scotland – so insistent on trying to “work with others” within the British political system to undo something that is a product of the British political system? Why is she not primarily concerned with the fact that the Union allows this product to be imposed on Scotland?

What will it take for the First Minister to realise and/or recognise that Brexit is merely a symptom and that the Union is the disease? What will it take for her to stop putting her faith in a British political system which is so plainly deleterious to Scotland’s interests?

What does the British political elite have to do to really piss her off to the point where Nicola Sturgeon admits that she must break the Union that places Scotland at the mercy of the likes of Boris Johnson?

Our First Minister looks forward to Holyrood going back into session next week and the Referendums Bill resuming its leisurely parliamentary progress. But she does so immediately after acknowledging the threat to the Scottish Parliament that many of us have been aware of for years. It’s almost as if she trusts Boris Johnson not to ‘suspend’ the Scottish Parliament as casually and arbitrarily as he did the British parliament. That is depressing.

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What are they thinking?

If the provisions of the Referendums Bill allowing the re-use of a previously used question hint at the Scottish Government’s intention to frame the ballot exactly as for the 2014 referendum then this would be regrettable. I realise that having the ability to use the same question doesn’t necessarily imply that this is what Nicola Sturgeon has in mind. But, taking this together with various other statements, the indications are that the idea is to run exactly the same campaign again.

This would be a tragic mistake. So much has changed in the last few years that the context of a new independence referendum campaign must be significantly different. And simply dusting-off the old campaign strategy – if, indeed, that is what is intended – suggests a woeful failure to learn lessons from the 2014 campaign.

I know that Keith Brown has forged a close working relationship with the Yes movement. Assuming he also speaks to Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell, t is difficult to suppose that they are unaware of the importance attached to reframing the constitutional debate. Individuals such as Bill Dale and organisation such as Business for Scotland have worked long and hard with Yes groups all over Scotland to develop the necessary skills. When I talk with activists, the subject of reframing always features prominently in the discussion. Reframing is regarded as crucial.

There is little to indicate that any of this has influenced the thinking of the senior figures in the SNP who are laying plans for a new referendum campaign. This is not merely disappointing, it is downright disturbing.

All the talk we hear from the SNP is of ‘taking the positive message of independence to the people’. Other than the constant linking of the independence issue to Brexit – which may, itself, prove to be an unwise move – the rhetoric is all but indistinguishable from what we heard in 2012/13. The same notion that methods deployed with great success by the SNP in elections can simply be transferred to a referendum. The same obsession with an exclusively ‘positive’ campaign. The same focus on an ‘economic case’ to the exclusion of the constitutional arguments. The same mindset of playing by the British state’s rules.

The term ‘mindset’ is not mere jargon. Just as reframing is essential to an effective campaign, so mindset is fundamental to reframing. If we are to have any hope of even addressing the key demographic, far less changing the way people see the constitutional issue, then we have to be able to shift our own perceptions of that issue. At the most basic level, we have to move away from the idea of independence as something we have to ask for or qualify for or ‘win’, and start thinking of independence as something to be taken. Something that is ours by right, but that illegitimately withheld from us.

Obviously, there is a lot more to the art and science of reframing. But this is the starting point. And until I see some sign that our political leaders have realised it, I will continue to worry.

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A modest proposal

With the Referendums (Scotland) Bill now going through Parliament, we can be confident that the Scottish Government has a plan which will ensure that the people of Scotland are able to exercise our right of self-determination in accordance with the norms of democracy. There will be a referendum – with or without permission from Sajid Javid or any of the other anti-democratic British Nationalist ideologues vying to become the next Prime Minister of the disintegrating British state.

And that referendum will be soon. For reasons which I have outlined elsewhere, my money is on September of this year. Talk of the “latter half” of 2020 is, I believe, a diversion. And, even if it isn’t and this really is Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred time-frame, I reckon unfolding circumstances will force an earlier vote. I’m absolutely sure that she and Mike Russell have prepared for this. The option has certainly been kept open by the proposed legislation.

I am also persuaded that Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell have devised a way to satisfactorily address the concerns that I, and many others, have about requesting a Section 30 order. If the Referendums (Scotland) Bill doesn’t do that, then there is no point to it. But my reading of the Bill convinces me that those concerns can safely be set aside for the moment.

We know that there will be a referendum. We have to proceed on the assumption that it will be sooner rather than later. So we have to start thinking about the campaign.

Actually, many of us have been thinking about this for some years. Even in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 it was clear that the matter was not settled. That referendum produced a result, but not a decision. The issue was always going to have to be revisited. We’ve had well over four years to consider how we should campaign in the coming referendum. If the best we can come up with in that time is a repeat of the 2014 campaign with a new logo, than we clearly aren’t thinking hard enough.

As you would expect, I have my own thoughts on how the Yes movement should fight the #ScotRef2019 campaign. I’ve been writing and talking about this since October 2014. It is clear to me that, if we are to be confident of securing the additional 10 points required to win the new referendum, we have to approach the whole constitutional issue with a totally fresh mindset.

More on that later. For the moment I’d like to deal with something fundamental. Something that many in the Yes movement probably don’t think about very much, if at all. Because we’ve all moved beyond the first questions that must be asked of any proposal – such as the proposal to #DissolveTheUnion. There are three things that any proposal must have before it can really be considered a proposal.

  • A sufficient reason
  • A viable plan
  • A credible alternative

Let’s look at these in relation to the proposal to dissolve the Union, taking them in reverse order.

Is there a credible alternative to the Union?

The alternative, of course, is independence. And, independence being the normal, default status of nations, the question really should be “Is the Union a credible alternative to independence?”. Unless there is a powerfully persuasive argument that the Union is better than independence, then independence must be a credible alternative.

Asking if there is a credible alternative to not being independent is a bit like asking if there is a credible alternative to not breathing.

Is there a viable plan for dissolving the Union?

By which is meant, is there an evidently workable way of getting from the status quo to the status being proposed? Is there a way of implementing the proposal to dissolve the Union?

Again, it is clear that there must be a way for nations which are not independent to become independent. It has been done many, many times. It is not a novel thing. The broad principles governing the process are set out in the Charter of the United Nations. The practicalities are pretty much all covered by precedent and the various conventions which have been developed over the centuries.

Let’s talk!

I enjoy visiting groups throughout Scotland to talk about the constitutional issue.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

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I aim to cover all costs from donations to this site.

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In Scotland’s case, much of the work has already been done – ore partly done. We already have much (most?) of the infrastructure and institutions of an independent nation. And we have people who have been planning for the dissolution of the Union for many years.

The Union is an artifice. It was created by politicians and lawyers and civil servants. It can be dismantled by politicians and lawyers and civil servants.

This is another question that really needs to be turned around. If there is some obstacle or impediment that makes the process of becoming independent unworkable, then let those claiming it can’t be done give their reasons. Let them describe those obstacles and impediments. And if the obstacles and impediments are of their making, let them explain their reasons.

Is there sufficient reason to dissolve the Union?

The Union shouldn’t exist. If a political union on these terms was to be mooted now, it would provoke more ridicule than anger. The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty. The Union is a denial of popular sovereignty. It imposes the alien concept of parliamentary sovereignty – a prettified version of absolute monarchy – along with a range of policies which are wilfully or incidentally contrary to Scotland’s interests.

The Union is a constitutional cage within which Scotland’s needs, priorities and aspirations are confined lest they conflict with the interests of the British state.

The Union, as has been noted, is anomalous. It is an aberration. And an abomination. Within the Union Scotland cannot even be a fully functioning democracy, never mind the progressive and prosperous nation we aspire to be. The Union simply will not allow it.

The difficulty isn’t finding sufficient reasons why the Union should be dissolved. The problem is explaining why it is allowed to persist.

In dealing with these basic requirement of a proposal, one thing has become clear. Restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status requires no justification. There is no need for a ‘positive case for independence’. It is the Union which must be justified. It is those who insist on preserving the Union who must explain why the people of Scotland should tolerate a constitutional arrangement which makes them second-class citizens in an increasingly intolerant and repressive British state, rather than normal citizens of a normal country.

It is for British Nationalists and hard-line Unionists to tell us what it is that Scotland gets from the Union which makes it worth the sacrifice of our democratic rights and our dignity. And, as they do, they better be aware that they cannot get away with the old lies.

Which neatly leads into the matter of how the coming referendum campaign should be fought. Let’s think about that.

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The fight is on!

The Scottish Government appears to be proceeding on the assumption that there will still be a Scottish Parliament in the “latter half” of 2020. There can’t be many politically aware people in Scotland who consider that a safe assumption.

But I use the word “appears” advisedly. Because everything we know about the First Minister and her team tells us that they are not the kind of people who make rash assumptions. They are, however, the kind of astute political operators who recognise the importance of keeping their options open.

Nicola Sturgeon’s talk of a new referendum sometime in the second half of next year jarred with more than a few commentators. It’s not that this degree of specificity on timing was unexpected. The vagueness and ambiguity couldn’t go on much longer. In truth, Ms Sturgeon’s timing is probably perfect. She has chosen just the right moment to give some definition to the time-frame for a new referendum. We now have an approximate end point well ahead of the next Scottish general election in 2021. Nothing set in stone, of course. Remember those options and the need to keep them open.

The way this time-frame has been presented, the First Minister could set a date beyond the latter half of 2020. But that was always unlikely anyway as this would risk a clash with campaigning for the Holyrood elections in 2021. What is vastly more significant is the fact that the time-frame as stated leaves total flexibility to schedule the referendum earlier – at any point between the passing of the legislation and autumn 2020. This crucial option has been kept open.

Let’s talk!

I enjoy visiting groups across Scotland to talk about the independence campaign.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

I do not charge a fee.

I do not ask for expenses but will accept contributions if offered.

I aim to cover all costs from donations to this site.

If you would like to discuss a visit to your group please email

It would surprise no-one who has considered the constitutional implications of Brexit and the ‘mood’ of the British political elite if the date for the new referendum was to be in September 2019. British Nationalists will foam and splutter, insisting that Nicola Sturgeon had ‘promised’ the referendum wouldn’t be held before late 2020. But British Nationalists will always misrepresent the facts in this way. Just as they will always foam and splutter.

The same political acuity which we see in the careful crafted statements and the keeping open of options can be detected in the wording of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill. There is purpose in making the legislation broad – relating to plebiscites in general rather than just the new independence referendum. There is purpose in defining the territory on which legal battle with the British government will be joined. There is purpose in drafting the legislation in such a way as to allow concession to parliamentary allies. This is some smart politicking!

There has been a deal of frustration with Nicola Sturgeon of late. Many in the Yes movement – myself included – have found cause to criticise her. But nobody, I’m sure, seriously doubted our First Minister’s ability. My sense is that the days of frustration are over. The Referendum Bill marks, not a change of direction, but a change of gear. The fight is on. And Nicola needs every bit of support the Yes movement can provide.

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