Welcome to Borissia

Living in Scotland, I tend to greet news of a Downing Street reshuffle with a shrug. How does it affect me? How does it affect Scotland? Isn’t shite still shite no matter how much you rearrange the turds? I have to remind myself that, because of the Union, these people exert extraordinary, totally unaccountable and invariably baleful influence in matters which should rightfully be the exclusive province of people we actually elect. We are therefore obliged to take at least some heed of what manner of individuals hold senior positions in the government of England-as-Britain. Or what I have lately taken to calling Borissia. I may occasionally fall into the habit observing the comings and goings of British politicians much as I would the wrigglings and squirmings of pond-life under the microscope, but it is as well to be mindful that this pond-life bites.

I read that the current Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith, is slated to be declared the new Minister for the Union and, tempted as I may be to note this tidbit of info-gossip and move on, I also read that Ms Smith apparently takes the view that the people of Scotland are neither worthy of nor entitled to news presented from a Scottish perspective. The British news is good enough for us. She isn’t about to encourage the idea that Scotland is distinctive in any way. It just the northern territory of Borissia.

Scotland’s cause being purely a constitutional issue it’s maybe a good idea to keep a watchful eye on Chloe Smith. In the Borissian government, the Minister for the Constitution is the official champion of British Nationalist ideology, and Minister for the Union is a diplomatically dishonest euphemism for the Minister for the Subjugation of Scotland.

I read that someone by the name of Rishi Sunak is the new Chancellor of the Borissian Exchequer having formerly been Chief Secretary to the Treasury – a role I inevitably associate with one Danny Alexander now Sir Daniel Grian Alexander having been duly rewarded for his part in creating the false prospectus on which the people of Scotland voted to give the Borissian government licence to do as it will with Scotland.

I know nothing of Mr Sunak other than that he is the MP for a part of Borissia called Richmond and that he must be a British Nationalist or he wouldn’t have been given the job. Of much more interest is the reason there was a vacancy. His predecessor resigned because of Boris Johnson’s intention to create a joint set of economic advisers for the Treasury and Number 10; a move that would further concentrate executive power in the hands of Johnson and his very special adviser, Dom Cummings. We have to refer to them as Boris & Dom now as they are at least as much an ‘item’ as deserves the ampersand. It’s surely only a matter of time before some wag hack with a depleted imagination coins a joint name for them – Bordom or Doris, perhaps. Which would be marginally less excruciating than The Johnster and The Cumster, I suppose.

But we should take this seriously. The combination of Boris Johnson and Dom Cummings may be revolting, but it is revoltingly successful. While BoJo plays the chief clown in the Borissian State Circus, Cummings is pulling strings and levers behind the scenes with such deftness that Boris & Dom have each and both got pretty much everything they want. There may not appear to be a plan. But what if the plan is to appear to have no plan whilst cunningly progressing a cunning plan cunningly concealed by cunningly contrived chaos? What if the shambles of the Brexit process was exactly what was needed to create the conditions for centralising power and upgrading Borissia from satirical epithet to stark reality?

Suppose someone was mounting a coup in the UK. Isn’t control of the treasury the first thing they would think of, given that there’s no need for them to take over the TV and radio stations? Exaggerated as it may seem, isn’t that thought enough to give one pause? Bear in mind that Boris & Dom haven’t only absorbed the team advising the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, they have installed someone they know is amenable to such external influence (control?) over his department. And, perhaps more importantly, removed someone who was evidently minded to resist such a move. And do so publicly.

The Treasury represents a constraint on executive power. That constraint has at least been loosened. We should ask ourselves why?

It seems that Alister “Union” Jack is to stay on as Downing Street’s man in Scotland and titular head of the unelected and unaccountable shadow administration created by the Borrissian government to take over powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament. Thus, my somewhat tongue-in-cheek prediction that Ruth Davidson would be installed as de facto Governor-General of North Borissia. Perhaps BorDom & Doris felt that the task of defanging Holyrood still required the skills and attitude of a predator rather than the gloss and grooming of a show animal. Or maybe Ruth has set her sights somewhat higher. Having lost her crown as Queen of the BritNats in the annexed lands of North Borissia, perhaps she’s not content with her reward for loyal service to the shrivelling Borissian empire. Maybe elevation to the Dead Stoat Cloak Club isn’t enough to satisfy that ravenous ego. Maybe she has her eye on another throne to replace the one she lost. Betty Windsor might be wise to review her security. Maybe employ a food-taster. Definitely don’t accept apples from cackling crones. Just saying.

The more likely explanation is that Jack the Lackey is being kept on because he’s just the man for the job. Unfortunately for the people of Scotland, his job is treachery. His remit is to undermine and then dismantle Scotland’s democratic institutions. In practical terms, his function is to roll out a series of ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ which increasingly impinge on and arrogate the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Alister Jack squats in Queen Elizabeth House like some obscene arachnid charged with sucking the juices from Scotland’s distinctive political culture until all that’s left is a dessicated husk no longer capable of being a nuisance to the Borissian state and its rulers.

We have to know this. We have to know that turds are being rearranged for a purpose. We have to realise that this purpose has only dire consequences for Scotland. If we value Scotland’s democracy and identity as a nation, we have to be prepared to defend them. We can’t afford to suppose that a cabinet reshuffle in London has nothing to do with us.



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A vacancy for vacant

This being a political appointment the normal rules probably don’t apply to the task of selecting someone to fill the role of Secretary of State for Scotland. Or, at least, not to the same extent. Usually, one would first define the role in order that a set of criteria could be established. This must still happen. But the established criteria may well be set aside in favour of considerations which have more to do with relationships of power within the ruling party than finding the best person for the job. And we have only the Westminster rumour-mill as our guide to who is in line to benefit from the Prime Minister’s patronage and who is looking like a loser.

Let us suppose, for the sake of something to write about if nothing else, that patronage was not a factor and that the choice of Secretary of State for Scotland was being made in an entirely pragmatic manner. In such imaginary circumstances, a detailed job description would be essential. Only then would it be possible to figure out what it takes to be an effective Secretary of State for Scotland.

What constitutes effective is, of course, a function of the job description – which will include one or more aims. We are asking what an effective Secretary of State for Scotland must achieve as well as what is involved in doing the job. The incumbent will be expected to deliver on some policy objective.

The post of Secretary of State for Scotland was originally created when the Union was imposed on Scotland. It was abolished in the wake of the 1745 ‘rebellion’ when the military occupation and brutal repression made explicit the fact that the Union was in, in reality, annexation of Scotland by England. The post was revived in 1885 and upgraded to full Secretary of State status in 1926.

Originally, the Secretary of State for Scotland was supposed to be Scotland’s man in the British cabinet. (Only one woman, Helen Liddell (Lab) has ever held the post.) It was almost entirely a sop to public opinion in Scotland – an attempt to make the Union seem less unpalatable. Notwithstanding the token nature of the job, a few individuals did good work on Scotland’s behalf. Tom Johnson springs to mind. And, perhaps, Willie Ross. But these successes tended to be more than offset by the likes of notorious liar Alistair Carmichael and just plain notorious Jim Murphy.

Overall, it has never been entirely clear whether the Secretary of State was Scotland’s man (or Helen Liddell) in London or London’s man in Scotland. Any doubt on this count has now been dispelled. He (or theoretically ‘she’) is now definitely and unabashedly the British government’s representative in Scotland. He represents the interests of that government and of the Union. In no sense does he (Sorry Helen, but I have to stop this.) represent Scotland’s interests. Quite the contrary. According to the British government’s website,

The main role of the Scottish Secretary is to promote and protect the devolution settlement.

Other responsibilities include promoting partnership between the UK government and the Scottish government, and relations between the 2 Parliaments.

Secretary of State for Scotland

The language disguises a far harsher reality. While it is certainly the job of the Secretary of State for Scotland to “promote and protect the devolution settlement” this aspect of the role must be understood in the light of what devolution means. First regarded as a way of killing Scotland’s burgeoning independence movement ‘stone dead’, devolution was always more about formalising the withholding of powers than devolving them. It would never have been permitted had it been thought that it might actually empower Scotland. It was only allowed because the British establishment was persuaded that it would not jeopardise the Union. In fact, it was maintained that it would strengthen England-as-Britain’s grip on Scotland.

Best laid schemes etc. Suffice it to say that it didn’t quite work out as anticipated. After the No vote in 2014, many commentators – myself included – considered it likely that the British political elite would use the power handed to them by No voters to abandon or at least roll back the devolution ‘experiment’. This would have been very controversial, of course. In fact, the Brits did a rather clever thing instead. Taking advantage of the Smith Commission and subsequent ‘reform’ of the Scotland Act, they sought to weaponise devolution against the SNP administration in Edinburgh. That didn’t go so well either. The Scottish Government deftly avoided all of the fiscal and political traps that had been laid for them. Or, at least, mitigated or deferred the impact of measures intended to undermine the Scottish Government and make the SNP unelectable. Then it would have been back to British business as usual. Scotland’s voters had other ideas.

This brief history was necessary in order to better understand what the role of Secretary of State for Scotland now entails. The incumbent no longer has to pretend to be representing Scotland’s interests – although the media may still portray him in this light. Today, the Secretary of State for Scotland is first and foremost the defender of the Union. His task is to ensure that the Union is preserved – at whatever cost to Scotland. Post-Brexit, his task is to implement a British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ solution to the problem of Scotland.

As soon as the first SNP administration was formed in 2007, the fate of the Scottish Parliament was sealed. If devolution was not to become the threat to the Union that the British establishment fears, Holyrood had to be reined-in. The Secretary of State for Scotland has a crucial role to play in this. He is to head a shadow administration which will take on powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament under the guise of managing the Brexit aftermath. What qualities and abilities would a person require in order to do this job?

Obviously, they would have to be ruthless and thick-skinned – uncaring of how they are perceived by the people of Scotland who have realised the true nature of the Union. The individual concerned will be actively betraying Scotland every moment that they are in office. They will necessarily and inevitably come to be despised by all but the most fervent British Nationalists. Although the ‘Jock-bashing’ may make them popular in England-as-Britain, their name will be cursed in Scotland.

This suggests that it should be somebody with a pathologically diminished self-awareness. Somebody who will do what is required of them in return for personal advancement. Somebody with a craving for the prestige of high office but lacking the talent to make it on merit. Somebody who can be bought.

The candidate needs no particular skills. The infrastructure of the shadow government is pretty much complete. What is needed is a ‘face’ to front the project. Someone with a bit of charisma. Someone with a measure of superficial charm. Importantly, someone who is media-savvy. Someone who can ‘sell’ what is being done to Scotland’s democracy. All of which rules out the present incumbent. Alister Jack was chosen because of his business experience. He was considered ideal as the person to manage the seizing of the Scottish Parliament’s ‘assets’- its powers – and managing their adoption and operation by the ‘UK Government in Scotland’. A functionary.

It is likely that the rumours of his removal have been prompted by the realisation that the machinery of the shadow government is better left in the hands of technocrats and civil servants. The project doesn’t need a manager. It needs a figurehead. Alister Jack is certainly not the kind of person who is likely to impress Dominic Cummings. And he has a great deal of influence with Boris Johnson.

We now have a job description and an idea of the kind of person who would be ideal for the role. The Secretary of State for Scotland needs to be venal, mercenary, ambitious, shallow and heartless with good media skills, fluency in the language of politics, a winning personality and a photogenic face. Someone who has mastered the art of the photo-op. Someone who can trivialise the most serious of issues and treat trivialities with undue solemnity and melodramatic indignation.

Someone who has not the slightest compunction about lying brazenly and who has a natural talent for hypocrisy. Someone who can flip from one position to another with consummate ease and hold to both effortlessly. Someone neither fazed nor embarrassed by inconsistency and contradiction. At the same time, they must not pose any threat to Boris Johnson. It must be someone who is liked within the party but who has no large following. It must be someone who can easily be sidelined should the occasion arise. If they are Scottish or can carry off the pretence of speaking for Scotland, this would be a bonus.

Dear readers! I give you the next Secretary of State for Scotland – RUTH DAVIDSON!



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All hypocrites together

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

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

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

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



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A vacancy for vacancy

I have never had anything at all flattering to say about Ruth Davidson. Not just because she’s a Tory, but because she is the kind of political careerist I despise. Somebody who is content to be used by established power in return for the paltry baubles of celebrity status and media attention. Until now, apparently.

What has changed? Not her domestic situation. She was well aware of the kind of commitment she was making when she and her partner decided to start a family. Unless she’s pregnant again, nothing has altered in that regard. If it was going to take time for the realities of juggling family and career to hit home, that time elapsed long before now.

According to that fount of all political wisdom, Tom Gordon (The Herald’s Scottish Political Editor), Davidson returned to Holyrood in May ready to “claim Nicola Sturgeon’s throne”. Let’s hope that fount has an efficient flush.

It’s not Davidson’s domestic circumstances that have changed. Nor is it credible that she’s just appreciated the difficulties of being a mother and an MSP. What has changed is the political context.

I might have found a smidgeon of respect for Ruth Davidson if she’d had the courage to state that the Boris Johnson regime is indefensible. But then she would not have been where she was if she had been a person given to strong convictions.

The good news for the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) is that they will have no difficulty finding a new ‘leader’. Cast an eye over the British Tories squatting in the Scottish Parliament and you’ll find plenty of people who have neither principles nor self-respect.



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The cuckoos

Those of you who are not hampered by British Nationalist blinkers cannot have failed to notice the ease with which Nicola Sturgeon bats away the opposition’s attacks at the weekly First Minister’s Questions (FMQ) sessions. In part, this is because she is well-briefed, intelligent and quick-thinking. But it is also because her adversaries are none of these things.

It is said that, in court, counsel should never ask a question unless they know the answer. Heeding the sense of this, I long since adopted the habit – now second nature – of ‘testing’ statements prior to publishing them. I always ask myself how I would respond if I were on the other side. There have been many occasions when I’ve had something ready to post on Twitter but, pausing with the cursor on the button, I have opted to delete instead because I’ve thought of a great comeback which just might also occur to my interlocutor.

Richard Leonard, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie all regularly make utter fools of themselves at FMQ due to their evident inability to reflect on what they are saying and consider how the First Minister might respond. Mainly, this is because their ‘questions’ are not constructed as genuine enquiries made for the purpose of eliciting information or clarification, but as partisan thrusts essayed for the purpose of scoring points – and providing the British media with sound-bites. But the fact that they continue to play the clown-troupe week in and week out bids us suppose that there must also be an element of stupidity involved in their obvious inability to learn any lessons from their regular humiliation.

As it is for the leaders of the British parties at Holyrood, so it is for all of the British politicians squatting like fat cuckoos in the Scottish Parliament. Just as Rennie, Davidson and Leonard are too arrogant to suppose their utterances require some consideration, and too deluded to feel humiliation when they are slapped down by Nicola Sturgeon, so their underlings emulate this total lack of self-awareness.

The Tweet shown in the image at the top of this page appeared on my time-line this morning. It was posted by British Conservative & Unionist Party (BCUPS) cuckoo, Rachel Hamilton MSP. One of those people you sort of think you might have heard of but can’t quite place. When they’re doing really daft stuff there’s a tendency to get them mixed up with Kirstene Hair. Anyway! Whoever she may be, she posted that Tweet doubtless thinking herself quite the political operator. I posted the following response.

If you genuinely cared about protected status for Scottish foods you wouldn’t be dragging Scotland out of the EU on the ragged coattails of your Beloved British state. You have shown where your loyalty lies. And it’s not with your constituency or Scotland. #DissolveTheUnion— Peter A Bell #DissolveTheUnion (@BerthanPete) July 12, 2019

It occurred to me later that, so obvious was this rejoinder, the great wonder was that Kirstene Rachel hadn’t foreseen it. Surely even a BCUP politician would have seen where this was going had they taken the trouble to think about it for a moment. But she didn’t see. Because she didn’t think. Because she doesn’t care. And that is the lesson which we take from all of this.

British politicians in Scotland just don’t care. They don’t have enough respect for the Scottish Parliament to care if what they come out with at FMQ is so abysmally dumb as to warrant a virtual skelp from the First Minister. They don’t have enough respect for Scotland’s people to care if the hypocrisy in their Tweets is so sickeningly obvious as to elicit an entirely predictable response. They exhibit the casual arrogance born of knowing that their utterances will never be subjected to scrutiny by the mainstream British media. They are so lacking in self-awareness as to be blithely unaware of how ludicrous they appear.

Surely Scotland deserves better than these British cuckoos!



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A nightmare scenario

As ever, Andrew Tickell does an excellent job of taking us through the rules and procedures of the Scottish Parliament. His account of how Nicola Sturgeon might force an early Scottish general election is intriguing. But there is one possible twist to the hypothetical tale which either hasn’t occurred to him or, more likely, was considered too outlandish even in an age of bizarre politics – the Grand Coalition.

Suppose that, when Nicola Sturgeon resigns as First Minister, instead of “the ridiculous spectacle of a Davidson-Leonard contest” envisioned by Andrew we had the rather less amusing spectacle of the British parties in Holyrood forming an alliance sufficiently workable to avoid “complete ungovernability”?

Is this really so difficult to imagine? It may not be easy to see such a Grand Coalition working in the longer term, but how long would it have to last in order to foil Nicola Sturgeon’s devious plan to bring about an early election? If the British parties could cobble together any kind of administration and keep it limping along for even a few weeks, Ms Sturgeon would be left looking every bit as foolish as Theresa May did in the aftermath of he snap UK general election in 2017.

There was a time when a formal association between the two main British parties – even at the North Britain branch level – would have been unthinkable. But that all changed in June 2012 with the formation of Better Together / Project Fear. That set the precedent. It is now not possible – or, at least, not sensible – to discount the possibility of a Grand Coalition of British parties in the Scottish Parliament.

Such an alliance would be justified in terms of a shared British Nationalist ideology which readily overcomes the already uncertain political differences between the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) and British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). Because we’ve seen it before from their predecessors, it is all too easy to imagine Leonard and Davidson sharing a platform festooned with Union flags; and to hear the grandiloquent speeches about a shared determination to “protect our precious Union” and “save Scotland from the evil of the SNP”. Rhetoric which would be echoed by their respective bosses in London, both of whom would eagerly seize the opportunity to play the ‘unity’ card in the hope of trumping the Mad Brexiteer insurgency threatening the cosy two-party arrangement which has served the British establishment so effectively for decades.

If the thought of a Grand Coalition of British parties wresting control of Holyrood from the Scottish parties doesn’t give you nightmares then reflect for a moment on the damage such an administration could do. Think of the ways it could use even temporary power to advance the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. The possibility of such an alliance may be remote. But the prospect is horrifying. Could Nicola Sturgeon afford to take a chance?



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In place of truth

David Mundell

There is certainly hypocrisy in David Mundell’s screeching U-turn on the matter of his willingness to serve under Boris Johnson. Just as there is dumb arrogance in Ruth Davidson’s bombastic pronouncements on the subject of a new referendum – her actual authority being in inverse proportion to her pomposity. Similarly, it is difficult to explain Richard Leonard’s dire performances at First Minister’s Questions (FMQ) without including stupidity as a significant factor.

But is there something more to all this than rank hypocrisy, vaunting arrogance and abysmal stupidity? Is it, perhaps, a mistake to dismiss such things as mere gaffes or to discount them as just evidence of the kind of character flaws which seem ubiquitous among British politicians? When taken together with the various form of dishonesty by which the British media allows the gaffes to go unreported and the character flaws unremarked, might we be looking at a much larger phenomenon?

Some time ago. in an article for iScot Magazine called ‘The death of truth’, I wrote,

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.

Not that I am suggesting some Orwellian plot to murder truth. But if making the concept of truth indistinct and elusive serves the agendas of a sufficient number of people with a sufficient amount of influence then what emerges from their behaviours and interactions may be all but indistinguishable from a conspiracy.

What is certain is that the British establishment has developed doubt as a powerful weapon in its propaganda arsenal. Pretty much everything that British politicians do seems designed to foster uncertainty. The British media does a bang-up job of spreading that uncertainty. This results in a generalised erosion of confidence, not only in politicians, but in the entire political system. It also leads to much confusion among voters and, at the very least, a reduced ability to make informed choices.

When people are confused and uncertain they are more easily led. Or steered. They are more readily deterred from effecting change. They are more averse to anything that can be portrayed as a risk. They are more inclined to favour the familiar and cling to the status quo.

An atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion also makes people more susceptible to anyone who offers a risk-free option. Or an option which, with the help of the media, can be portrayed as risk-free. It was doubt, generated and exaggerated by Better Together / Project Fear, which the British political elite deployed so successfully in the 2014 independence referendum. It was the plausible promise of a simplistic certainty that launched the Brexit fiasco.

Pervasive doubt leaves space for manufactured truth. When truth is diminished, reality is defined by the loudest and most intrusive voices. Last week, Mundell said he wouldn’t work with Boris Johnson. This week, he says he would. Next week, nobody is sure what he said – or when he said it.

Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister. She has the authority of that office. She has the democratic mandate. Ruth Davidson is treated by the British establishment – particularly the media – as if she has the same status as the First Minister. She is presented as speaking with similar authority. She is allowed and enabled to claim a mandate that she doesn’t possess. Keep this up for long enough and with sufficient intensity and the distinction between First Minister and nonentity is blurred. Davidson’s pronouncement are afforded a weight they cannot legitimately have.

At FMQ, Richard Leonard persists in asking questions about reserved matters. This may be, wholly or partly, attributed to stupidity. But, deliberate or not, it has the effect of causing confusion about the powers of the Scottish Parliament and makes it easier to blame the SNP administration for the deleterious impact of British government policies.

Leonard’s evident stupidity is appalling. Davidson’s pretentiousness is offensive. Mundell’s hypocrisy is disgusting. The British media’s dishonesty is despicable. But put all this together and you have a phenomenon which is quite frightening.



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