Building blocks

Always one to look for the silver lining I’m taking some comfort from the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has at least put a stop to the inane “never closer to independence” drivel we used to get from Alyn Smith. I was curious to see what replacement drivel he’d come up with (Partly joking, Alyn!) so I checked out his column in today’s National. Imagine my surprise when I found him talking about independence in defiance of Nicola Sturgeon’s strictures on the matter. He appears to have picked up on the developing theme in Scotland’s political discourse which acknowledges that the restoration of Scotland’s independence must have its place in the discussion about shaping a post-pandemic world. Jonathon Shafi has authored a fine introduction to what promises to be a lively and productive debate.

This is, of course, quite contrary to the tone and content of Nicola Sturgeon’s infamous cease and desist message to independence activists. It is gratifying to see that her ill-thought instruction to stop all campaigning may not have had as much influence as I feared. On reflection, it never could. As if I needed further cause to condemn the foolishness of that statement, I now realise that it was pointless and silly for another reason. There was never any way that independence could be excluded from discussion of what we seek to build once we can regard the pandemic as over. Imagine if someone suggested that all campaigning on the climate issue had to stop. Imagine trying to discuss the future without taking account of what environmental campaigners are saying. It would be nonsensical.

It is just as nonsensical to exclude Scotland’s constitutional issue. Or, indeed, any constitutional issue. Because, as I have noted many times before, the constitution is fundamental. Constitutional politics directly addresses issues of power, legitimacy and accountability. You cannot deny the primacy of constitutional politics without dismissing the matter of sovereignty. You cannot sensibly discuss decisions relating to sweeping reforms without considering the question of who ultimately makes these decisions; how the decisions are made; who is responsible for implementing the decisions; who has the rightful authority to enforce the decisions. All of this comes under the heading of constitutional politics. It is never not the time to be talking about such things.

Those who say, “Now is not the time!” have an agenda. You can be fairly certain that it is not entirely about human suffering, the tragic loss of life and the grief of the bereaved. There are those who will insist or imply that to think and talk of anything other than the pandemic and its human cost is to be heartless and inhumane. You don’t need a powerful memory to recall a time when there was a different reason for now not being the time. And one before that. And before that. The fact is that those who have power will always find a justification (or rationalisation) for deferring discussion of who has power; how that power is acquired; in whose interests power is exercised; to whom is power accountable, and by what means or process is power transferred.

Alyn Smith says something that is definitely not drivel.

All the problems we face are global, be it climate change, organised crime, the migration crisis or indeed a fight against a pandemic. We need an organised structured co-operation to do that. Of the bodies available to us – the UN, G20, World Trade Organisation, Nato and the EU – we’re not eligible for G20, the WTO is creaking from crisis to crisis, Nato is about defence and the UN in the absence of agreement has no teeth. The EU is it, and if it didn’t exist we’d want to invent something like it.

This is, in its essence, a potent statement of the task facing all of us – and I do mean all of us – as we deal with the damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic. In terms of the broad sweep and relentless flow of history, the deaths will be the least of that damage. There is nothing we can do for the dead but mourn them and remember them. There is much that we can and must do for the living of this and future generations. As Alyn Smith notes, accomplishing any meaningful part of the task we face, and achieving so much as a fraction of the potential it presents, will require structures capable of cooperating on a global scale. Where I part company with Alyn is his tendency to think at too large a scale. What he says about the EU is undoubtedly true. It is a bold and largely successful experiment in post-imperial international association which may well hold lessons for us – good and bad – as we strive to build those new structures. But it’s the wrong scale.

Jonathon Shafi recognises the importance of scale.

In a word gripped by a pandemic, economic crisis, climate change and intensifying geopolitical rivalries, the whole conversation around the veracity of small, independent, self-sustaining nations will transform. Local control will, I suspect, gain in popular support – especially as transnational institutions fail to deliver the solidarity their populations expect, and as free-market capitalism lies exposed and undermined even by the American state whose hegemonic position in the world was key in bringing about globalisation as we know it.

Small, independent, self-sustaining nations! That is the scale at which we should be thinking. Nations can be problematic. But they work. They are the evolved solution to the seemingly insuperable difficulties of unnaturally large communities. They are the largest unit of socio-economic organisation with which people can identify. A nation is a community of communities. At its best, the nation can emulate – though rarely if ever replicate – the cohesiveness of smaller communities. The nation has to be the default base unit of global cooperation because, if one maintains that the formation and management of those structures should be done with the informed consent and willing participation of the people, then that cohesiveness is essential.

The UK, as presently structured, fails abysmally to meet the criteria for the kind of small, internally cohesive nations which can be the building blocks of global cooperation. Dismantling the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state must be a priority. That starts with the abolition of the Union.

Now is the time to be talking about independence. Now is the time to be planning the restoration of Scotland’s independence in order that we may be the small, independent, self-sustaining and cohesive nation that the new world demands. As I wrote in an earlier article,

We are told that we will emerge from the pandemic into a world that is significantly, if not massively changed. It is an undeniable fact of life that if the forces of democracy don’t manage the change then other forces will. And we may not like the society that they create.

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A couple of months ago I bought some new lamps for our living room. They’re those ones with the bulbs that change colour controlled from an app on your phone. It’s nice to be able to adjust the lighting according to the time of day or what you’re doing. The lamps were bought online and supplied by a firm in Germany and, while I’m more than happy with my purchase, there was a problem with one of them which necessitated contacting the firm’s customer service department – which I duly did whilst making a further purchase. The problem was quickly and efficiently resolved and the new purchases promptly dispatched. All in all, a painless and hassle-free process.

It occurred to me today to wonder whether my dealings with this company in Germany will be so straightforward in future. Previously, I had been dealing with them as an EU citizen in another EU member state. As from 23:00 on Friday 31 January that will no longer be the case. Any future dealings I have with this company will be as a citizen of what the EU refers as a ‘third country’. Other third countries include Albania and Kosovo. No offence to the people of either of those countries, but I can’t help but feel that going from being on a list with France and Germany to one with Albania and Kosovo is relegation of the kind that football clubs only suffer if they’ve done something too outrageous even for the sport’s governing bodies.

The people of Albania and Kosovo would seem to agree with my perspective, given that both those nations aspire to EU membership. Which, I suppose, puts them towards the top of the third country league, whereas the only country ever to quit the EU must surely languish at the very bottom of the lowest division. On the stroke of 11pm tomorrow, my status changes dramatically. And through no choice of my own.

Of course, it is entirely possible that this change in status will have little or no effect on my dealings with a company in Germany. I just don’t know. And that is bad enough in itself. At the moment, I know exactly where I stand. After tomorrow (Friday), I will be unsure. Today, I know that businesses in Germany and all the businesses in all the countries of the EU must treat me as if I was a citizen of the same country. It’s a reciprocal arrangement that works very well. I have been perfectly content with this arrangement for long enough that I can’t remember what things were like before.

I had no desire whatever to forsake this arrangement. I voted accordingly in 2016. But, because of a markedly different kind of political union, my vote didn’t count. The votes of everyone in Scotland didn’t count. It wouldn’t have mattered if every single one of them had turned out and every single one of them had voted the same way, those votes would have counted for absolutely nothing unless voters in England-as-Britain agreed.

It’s hard, at least for those of us who think about these things, to get one’s head around the enormity of this situation. Because England-as-Britain voted Leave by a 6 point margin, Scotland voting Remain by a margin four times greater counts for nothing. 53% in England-as-Britain is decisive. 62% in Scotland is meaningless. Slightly more than half the voters in England-as-Britain want one thing, so nearly two-thirds of people in Scotland just have to suck it up. There is no way to describe this that doesn’t make it sound any less ludicrously devoid of anything resembling democratic legitimacy.

But it gets worse. Not only am I supposed to accept this affront to democracy and relegation to third country status, I am required to do so without complaint. If I object, I am the one who is being unreasonable and indulging in the politics of grievance. If I suggest that a better arrangement would be one which allows both England-as-Britain and Scotland to have what they vote for, I am castigated and condemned for being a divisive separatist. Tautology aside, this in itself is a slight that nobody with a scintilla of self-respect can be expected to tolerate.

The whole sorry saga of Brexit has – or should have – brought people to the realisation that Scotland’s constitutional dilemma is about more than where our government sits and how our affairs as a nation are managed. It is about the kind of people we are. It is about how we think of ourselves, our communities and the community of communities that is our nation. It is about whether we see ourselves as being a nation at all, or whether we see ourselves as merely a region within a British state where what we are as individuals, communities and country is not something defined by consensus among the people who live here but something imposed on us by an external force which not only cares nothing for our consent, but increasingly seeks ways of expressing its contempt for our democratic will.

Brexit is a distillation of all that is wrong with the Union. But we must never lose sight of the fact that Brexit is only a symptom. The Union is the disease. It is the Union which says such iniquities not only can but must be imposed on Scotland. Such is the very nature of the Union.

What kind of people are we? What kind of people do we aspire to be? What kind of people must we be if we meekly accept being dragged out of the EU despite having voted decisively to Remain. Despite having chosen to have the community of communities that is Scotland be part of the community of European nations.

What kind of people are we if, through timidity, inertia or apathy, we forsake the power to decide how we define our identity? What kind of a nation are we if, for want of political assertiveness, we allow ourselves to be locked into a political union which by its asymmetric nature inevitably and incorrigibly denies our sovereignty?

Part of the kind of person I want to be includes my European citizenship. Part of what I aspire to for Scotland involves being part of the great adventure in post-colonial international cooperation that is the EU. But even if you have little or no sympathy for my attitude to the EU, you must surely share the offence and anger I feel at being denied a choice in the matter. Brexit, like so many other choices made by England-as-Britain, is being forcibly imposed on everyone in Scotland regardless of how they voted in the EU referendum. What matters isn’t your agreement or otherwise with the choice but the fact that it is not your choice. The Union means your choices don’t count, even if they occasionally appear to count only because they happen to coincide with the choices made by people in another country.

I am offended that I can be denied a choice in this way. I am resentful that any part of my identity can be defined by others – and particularly by people whose worldview I regard as grotesque and whose ideology is anathema to me. I am angry that I am about to be stripped of my EU citizenship for no better reason than that a self-serving clique of over-privileged, immature buffoons in England-as-Britain have chosen to seek power by pandering to the basest instincts and prejudices of their electorate.

I am angry that the British political system has given rise to such an unworthy political elite. I am furious that the Union makes me and my country subject to their demented whims.

I’ve had enough. It may be more than three hundred years overdue, but I want my country back. I want my right to choose returned to me that was stolen. I want to be treated with a certain amount of respect. I want others to be treated with at least the same respect. I want to at least have the hope of a better nation. I want an end to the Union. And I want it now!

Part of this article was first published in iScot Magazine Issue 59 Jan/Feb 2020.

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Scotland’s predicament – a dose of reality!

The Scotland Act wouldn’t exist and devolution wouldn’t have happened if it put the Union in jeopardy. There is and can be, no route to independence that remains within the confines of laws, rules and procedures which are designed for the preservation of the Union. Neither is there any path to independence which does not pass through a point at which there is direct and inevitably acrimonious confrontation with the British establishment.

I have been saying this for five years. And I cannot possibly be the only person who has woken up to the harsh reality of Scotland’s predicament. I have no special insights and I find it glaringly obvious that where there is a political imperative every option will be explored to satisfy that imperative. The British state has always considered it imperative to keep Scotland under London control. That’s what the Union is all about. It is about preventing us from being a nation. It’s about stopping us being any more different than is expedient politically and economically. It is about the status of Britain and the British ruling elites’ conceit of themselves.

Given all that, it can hardly come as a surprise that the same ruling elites have contrived over the last 300 years to devise ways of locking Scotland into what we like to insist is still a voluntary political union.

If, as is now beyond question, there is no guaranteed democratic route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence accessible at will and independently of any other authority by the democratically elected representatives of Scotland’s people then this necessarily implies either that the Union was, in fact, annexation of Scotland by England or that Scotland has since been annexed by stealth.

Scotland has been annexed by England-as-Britain. Until the independence movement and the SNP acknowledge this reality, we are going nowhere. We’ve been fighting the wrong battle. We’ve been fighting for independence when we should have been fighting against annexation. We should have been fighting against the Union.

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The disintegrating Union

Delyth Jewell may be overstating things somewhat when he describes Mark Drakeford’s statement as marking a “monumental day in the history of the Welsh nation“. First Minister Drakeford has done no more than state the obvious when he says,

If you believe the UK is a voluntary association of four nations you have to face the possibility that some component parts of the UK may no longer choose to be part of it.

The problem lies in that opening conditional phrase. If British Nationalists believed that the UK was a “voluntary association” they wouldn’t be British Nationalists. They are British Nationalists because they maintain that, even if the UK ever was a voluntary association, it is not that now. British Nationalist ideology holds that the three smaller nations are subsumed into ‘One Nation’.

In dealing with these issues I tend to refer specifically Scotland. Not because I regard Scotland as more important, but simply because the historical backgrounds are different in each case and it would be impossible to deal with all adequately in a short article.

The Union between Scotland and England was always the Greater England project. The intention and purpose of the Union was, from its inception, to suppress and eventually eradicate Scottish identity and replace it with English identity. That project failed. Scottish identity proved too stubborn. So the focus moved to creating a new common identity for England and Scotland. We would all be British. The Greater England project became the Great Britain project.

But Britain, Great or otherwise, was never a nation. It was an invention contrived by – or on behalf of – the political, economic and social elites which combine as established power. It was, and remains, a system designed for the preservation and continuation of established power. Britain is not a nation. It is a ‘brand name’ applied to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which serve the few at whatever cost to the many.

British interests were, in the early days of the Great Britain project just as throughout the Greater England project, England’s interests. To a considerable extent, they still are. But only because and to the extent that England’s interests coincide with those of the British ruling elites. The Union, like the British state that it created, does not necessarily serve the interests of the people of England. Scotland’s interests are not now, nor were they ever, a consideration.

The aim of Union was to take Scotland out of the equation – economically, politically, constitutionally and culturally. Scotland was to be extinguished in order that established power might better prevail.

The Great Britain project was rather more successful than the Greater England project. The manufactured British identity took hold aided by the rewards of imperialist expansion, rousing military jingoism and tantalising aristocratic pomp. The seeds of the ‘One Nation’ cult were sown.

But, successful as the Great Britain project had been, Scottish identity was not eradicated. The idea of Scotland as a nation persisted. As the status of the British state declined along with the profits of colonial exploitation, the fragile cohesiveness based on notions of British exceptionalism diminished. Scotland began to tentatively reassert its identity. The British state resorted to trying to buy us off with trinkets such as the Scottish Office and devolution. But to no avail.

And so we come to the present day. Scotland has found its voice and that voice is challenging the established power of the British state as never before. All efforts at eradicating Scotland’s identity having failed, the British political elite is now resorting to a crude and increasingly aggressive form of anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which threatens to do by political coercion what could not be achieved by political cunning. We are now being told that Scotland will be subsumed into an increasingly alien British state regardless of the wishes of Scotland’s people.

The Union was always doomed to fail. The asymmetry of power and denial of Scottish popular sovereignty could not possibly survive alongside the kind of political engagement and democratic participation which has developed in Scotland over recent years. One would have to give way to the other. The British political elite is determined that preservation of the Union must take precedence over respect for democratic principles.

For Scotland, the choice is clear. Either we #DissolveTheUnion, or the Union destroys our democracy. For the other “component parts of the UK” – including England – the choice is similar. Either they insist that the UK is a “voluntary association” which they can choose not to be part of, or the British political elite will ensure that it is an involuntary one which they may never leave; and in which their interests will be all the more readily subordinated by the new constitutional status imposed on them.

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Scotland the disappeared!

I came across something the other day which some of you may find interesting. You’ll recall the fuss there was about the British government document(s) regarding Brexit which pointedly failed to mention Scotland. Then, last November there was that Andy Critchlow article in the Telegraph titled ‘North Sea oil can still be the bargaining chip we need‘, which also omitted any reference to Scotland.

I’ve stumbled upon another one!

It’s an article in The Guardian called ‘Organised crime in the UK is bigger than ever before. Can the police catch up?’. Written by Alex Perry and based on an interview with National Crime Agency boss Lynne Owens, it too manages to discuss at great length the issue of organised crime “in the UK” without once mentioning Scotland. There are lots of references to ‘Britain’ and ‘UK’ as well as a couple of mentions of ‘England & Wales’. But not so much as a hint that Scotland even exists. Which is extremely odd given one of the main themes of the article.

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking this is just another ill-informed, under-educated, narrow-minded, shallow-thinking, London-based hack exhibiting all the dumb parochialism we’ve come to expect from that hapless breed. You might quite reasonable suppose the fool guilty of no more than the usual conflating of England with UK. But there’s evidently more too it than that. Because the article repeatedly touches on the topic of how “fragmented” the police service is in England and Wales. Here’s an example.

An ancient and fragmented structure of 43 English and Welsh county forces, some of which date back 190 years, had left Britain with little to no “capability to respond” to modern, global criminals.

Organised crime in the UK is bigger than ever before. Can the police catch up?

This is one of several similar comments based on what appears to be a matter of particular concern to Lynne Owens. So, given that this “fragmented” structure is such a major focus of the article, how do we explain the absence of any reference to the sole example in the UK of a unified police service – Police Scotland? How is it possible for a professional journalist to so totally miss something so relevant to what he is writing about.

Especially given other similar instances, it is increasingly difficult to avoid concluding that the omission is deliberate. Scotland is being ‘disappeared’.

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A question of trust

ruth_davidsonFar from the least of the problems with Theresa May’s latest attempt to make the rough-hewn square peg of Brexit fit the well-formed round hole of reality is the question of trust. For example, when the British government undertakes to pay “due regard” to European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings relating to the rules the UK will share with Brussels, why would anyone assume this to mean that the British government will respect those rulings? Anyone even minimally aware of the British state’s record in relation to such undertakings would have to be exceedingly sceptical. Anyone familiar with ‘The Vow’ made to Scotland in 2014 would openly scoff at the notion of trusting the British political elite.

If there was any intention to respect ECJ rulings, why not just say so? Why not make that commitment explicit? Why resort to such vague terms? When such woolly language is used it becomes a matter of how it is defined. And of who does the defining.

This being the British political elite, it is safe to assume that they reserve to themselves the role of ultimate arbiters in this, as in all things. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that “due regard” might be defined in the same self-serving manner as the British political elite defines the “consent” of the Scottish Parliament to whatever it is that the British political elite wants to do to Scotland. Thus, the British government will be deemed to have given “due regard” to any ECJ ruling if –

(a) the ruling is accepted
(b) the ruling is ignored
(c) the ruling is rejected

To most of us, I’m sure, this is the stuff of Orwellian madness. But, to those mired in the dogmatic exceptionalism of British Nationalist ideology, it all seems perfectly reasonable. The reasonableness derives from it being British, regardless of the content. This may seem improbable. Many will ask how it is possible – absent some pathology – for any human intellect to deny such glaring inconsistency, contradiction and illogic. But we are dealing here with minds capable of the kind of doublethink which allows British politicians to pay lip service to Scotland’s Claim of Right whilst using those same lips to spit on Scotland’s right of self-determination.

And there is no escaping the fact that the British government actually drafted an amended the Scotland Act which Jonathan Mitchell QC condemned as “a rapist’s theory of consent”.

30 (4) For the purposes of subsection (3) a consent decision is—
(a) a decision to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the draft,
(b) a decision not to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the draft, or
(c) a decision to agree a motion refusing to consent to the laying of the draft;

In any negotiation there must be trust. There must be a certain minimum confidence that the parties to the negotiation are acting in good faith. There must be a reasonable expectation that undertakings made will be honoured. The British political elite has shown itself to be deceitful, duplicitous and dishonest. They cannot be trusted. Therefore, there can be no basis for agreement.

If there is no reason for the EU to trust the British state, there is even less cause for Scotland to do so. We trust the British government at our peril. We are paying a steep price for having believed British politicians in 2014. The cost of trusting them now will be far, far higher.

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Culture of the periphery

A week into my tour of the Highlands & Islands, as my all too brief stay on Orkney draws to a close, I find myself with some time to reflect on the the impressions, insights and inspirations of my travels so far.

The first thing to say is that the people I’ve met have been, without exception, wonderful. From the staff of Northlink Ferries to the wummin fae Fife driving the Scrabster bus to the chef at The Shore Hotel here in Kirkwall who stayed back after his shift to prepare a meal for me when I came in late from the meeting, they’re all a bit special.

Most special of all, however, are the folk who have organised the events and the people who have come along to those gatherings. Almost exclusively Yes people, it must be said. Those in the No camp seem as unwilling to engage now as they did throughout the first referendum campaign. Which is unfortunate. Not least because they have most to gain from hearing something other than the voice of the British state. But what can you do? There’s no way to oblige them to attend. They can’t be forced to participate. If they are determined to remain on the outside of Scotland’s constitutional debate, it’s hard to know what might draw them in.

The people I’ve been speaking to and talking with could hardly be more different. They are totally engaged and constantly thoughtful. The gathering last night in Kirkwall was typical. Twenty or thirty people crammed into a room, each with their own ideas and opinions, but all united in a shared commitment to Scotland. Each prepared to offer their considered thoughts on how best or nation’s interests are served. Each ready to have their views questioned. Each equipped to sensibly and reasonable challenge the views of others.

This is democratic politics at its best. This is how politics should be.

Some choose to put themselves outside this sphere of popular, participative politics. They opt to exclude themselves. By choice, they retreat to the periphery.

But, of course, that is not how it seems to the hard-line Unionist. From the British Nationalists’ perspective, they are the centre. By aligning themselves with the British state, they associate and affiliate themselves with what they think of as the ‘natural’ centre. For them, Scotland is the periphery. Scotland’s concerns are peripheral concerns. It is those who occupy themselves with Scotland’s concerns who are occupying the periphery.

And it doesn’t matter where they are. Politically, the centre/periphery distinction is not a matter of place. It is a state of mind.

It was, however, a geographical reference which brought this to mind. I was being taken on a tour of Skarra Brae when made some remark about Orkney being remote. This provoked an instant and indignant rejection of the suggestion. To the people who live there, Orkney is not remote. That’s not how they think of themselves. And maybe it shouldn’t be how the rest of Scotland thinks of its furthest reaches.

In an earlier article I wrote about how the Yes movement needs to be more connected. We must be careful not to squander the enthusiasm and intellect that I have encountered on my travels by being too focused on the central belt.

Perhaps more crucially, as Scotland departs the Union, we should be wary of falling into anything like the British Nationalist centre/periphery mindset.

Scotland is one nation. But it is one nation on account of a connection, not to a central structure of power, privilege and patronage, but among all of our diverse communities. A connection among people with a shared commitment to the community of communities which is our nation.

Next stop, Shetland!

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The ties that bind

solas_viewBest laid schemes of mice and men, eh? Good intentions, road to hell and all that. As I set out on my wee speaking tour of the Highlands & Islands I also set myself the task of writing regular updates. Due to various technical and human factors, that hasn’t been happening. Technical factors such as the lack of internet access. Human factors such as me being a lazy so-and-so who is all too easily distracted by stuff.

So it is that I find myself sitting in my room in Melbost, near Stornoway writing this instead of getting out and about. Having said that, it is a very nice room with a lovely view (see above). Which is unfortunate when someone is as easily distracted as myself.

The crossing from Ullapool to Stornoway was very restful. The driver managed to hit every bump and pothole on the water and, while I don’t suffer mal de mer, I found myself quite unable to walk around the good ship Pitchy McYawface. My old legs aren’t that good on terra firma, these days. As I quickly discovered, they’re worse than useless in the Greim bidhe on the MV Loch Siphort in even moderately choppy seas.

No internet, of course. And l soon wearied of the sights out the window. When you’ve seen one wave, you’ve pretty much seen them all. And if there were to be one awesome enough to be worthy of my attention, to be honest, I would rather not see it coming. Other than the waves, there was just grey. There was greenish grey and bluish grey and some grey that was almost black and some grey that was almost white. But mostly, it was grey. I tried playing a game of ‘Name The Grey’ – there are supposed to be fifty, I believe. But after slate, dove, battleship and a couple of others that I may have made up, the entertainment value of the exercise just couldn’t justify the effort involved.

So I spent the time reading and dozing and writing a few notes. And congratulating myself on getting bits off French and Latin and Gaelic into one paragraph.

A couple of hours in, the sun did break through the blue-grey sky to shine on the green-grey sea. So there was some excitement as the sky took on the glint of steel and the water the sheen of gunmetal. But, really, they’re just other names for grey. I only wish I’d thought of them when I was playing that game.

Then, suddenly, like the adverts intruding when you’re watching a black and white film, there was colour. We were approaching Stornoway. There were no more ruts and ridges for the boat driver to aim at, I was able to walk again, the green of Lewis’s low rolling hills hove into view and there was phone service.

Let me stress here that I’m not complaining. As a child, I used to go regularly on the ferry to the Isle of Arran. (I also have vague memories of the Queensferry Crossing when it was on, rather than over, the Firth of Forth.) The boat trip was always a big part of the holiday. It was exciting. It still is. I really enjoy it.

Part of that enjoyment is the thrill of being in a different, almost alien environment. Part of the pleasure – for those not distracted by serious nausea – lies in the fact that there is no longer solid ground beneath you. Everything feels different. Everything looks different. It may not be ‘other-worldly’, but it’s certainly ‘other-placely’.

Part of the pleasure, too, is the sense of being disconnected. Cut-off. Isolated. For someone accustomed to easy access to every form of communication, that sense of isolation can feel a bit scary. But scary in the same way that a roller-coaster is scary. It’s controlled danger. Just enough danger to be thrilling without actual fear for life.

Islands are a bit like that. Not that they’re scary places. But that they’re disconnected. Like boats. No matter how effectively technology builds links to the other world of the mainland, an island is always a place apart. Island people are, to a degree, people apart. If just visiting an island can make you feel some of the same sensations of being on a boat at sea, it stands to reason that living on an island must have some lasting effect.

Although I’m only here briefly, my excursion to Lewis has served as a useful and timely reminder that Scotland is neither wee nor homogeneous. By many measures, ours is actually a middling-size nation. Somehow, a two and three-quarter hour ferry journey is a more powerful reminder of how large Scotland is than a six hour road trip.

Experiencing the ‘empty’ spaces of Scotland, such as on the bus journey from Inverness to Ullapool and the crossing to Stornoway, also brings home the fact that Scotland is a land of dispersed and diverse communities. It must surely be a special force which binds those communities together into the nation we know Scotland to be.

Which, not at all coincidentally, is precisely what I was speaking about in Inverness on the first stop of my tour. And what I shall be speaking about in Tain tomorrow evening. If only somebody would remind me of the venue.

I always say, after these events, how stimulating, invigorating and inspiring they are. That’s because it’s invariably true. The gathering at Inverness Caledonian Thistle Social Club last Friday evening (2 March) was certainly no exception. I didn’t do a head count, but there must have been forty or fifty people there. Men, women of all ages, and even a few children. A mixture of Yes campaign activists from various parties and organisations as well as individuals who came along just . All engaged, informed and enthusiastic.

It was a crowd which, in its way, was as diverse as Scotland’s communities. Just as those communities come together around the idea of Scotland the nation, so the Yes movement comes together around a shared commitment to the cause of protecting and improving that nation.

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Dugdale dumps on doctors

Once again British Labour in Scotland takes the pish out of the people of Scotland with ill-thought, half-baked pronouncements that have more to do with grabbing headlines than offering cogent policies. Pretendy wee party loyalists and British nationalist fanatics will lap this up like Pavlovian dogs. Thinking people, on the other hand, will ask the pertinent questions.

Questions such as: is there actually a ‘crisis’ relating to GP appointment waiting times? British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) and their allies in the other British parties declare a fresh ‘crisis’ in NHS Scotland almost daily. And yet our health services continue to function rather well. Users of those services are, according to surveys, reasonably satisfied. While the British parties and their friends in the media constantly paint a picture of NHS staff of failure and a system in a state of collapse, the people who actually use NHS Scotland appear bafflingly oblivious to the catastrophe unfolding around them. You’d really think they’d be the first to notice.

Alternatively, we might conclude that the ongoing denigration of NHS Scotland by BLiS and their Tory allies is all malicious, politically motivated distortion, exaggeration and downright lies. So, when Dugdale starts screeching about yet another ‘crisis, we’d be well advised to be sceptical. Very sceptical!

The reality is that the majority of people get to see their GP in good time. Not all visits the the doctor are urgent. If it is, then most GP practices have arrangements for emergency appointments; or early/late sessions; or facilities to refer the patient to another doctor.

In many cases, it isn’t even necessary to see your GP. Increasingly, practice nurses are the appropriate person to see. Many have specialist skills. Some even have the authority to prescribe. Others have rapid access to persons who may prescribe on the strength of the nurse’s recommendation.

Pharmacists offer a Minor Ailments service and will often be able to provide advice and access to medication without the need for an appointment.

In short, there may not even be a problem, far less a ‘crisis’. And to whatever extent there is a problem, measures are already being taken to address this. I don’t doubt that there is scope for improvement in GP services, as there is in any endeavour. But I see absolutely no reason to put my faith in politicians who are all too evidently concerned mainly with petty politicking when we already have an administration which seems to be doing a passable job.

We might also wonder how feasible Dugdale’s ‘plan’ is, even if there was any pressing reason for it. We might ask pertinent questions such as whether GPs were consulted before she started making commitments on their behalf? At present, each practice has its own system for appointments. As must be the case with every practice being different in terms of number of doctors; number and qualifications of ancillary staff; facilities for various treatments etc.

Is Dugdale proposing that a Scottish Government under her leadership [a shiver runs down the spine] would impose on GPs a unified system for handling appointments? How would this work? Have GPs given their consent?

What about the cost? There surely will be a cost. Talk of online booking suggest yet another big government IT project. Experience tells us that those tend to be very expensive.

And the costs may not all be financial. What about the additional pressure on GPs and their staff? At present, people will be reasonable about appointments. If it is a non-urgent matter, they will be content to wait a week or more. A guaranteed 48hr waiting time changes the landscape completely. Bad enough if there is only the expectation of an immediate appointment regardless of need. Much worse if there is a contractual requirement for doctors to see patients within 48hrs without regard for clinical considerations.

This is reckless, irresponsible stuff from Dugdale. Once again she demonstrates that she is unfit for office. And that BLiS is unfit for government.

Processes and tipping points

What John Swinney suggests regarding a Scottish Chancellor makes perfect sense. Unless you are ideologically opposed to the power of the Westminster elite being diminished in any way. We are on a trajectory which inevitably leads to independence. With every bit of power that is wrested from the jealous grasp of the British establishment and returned to the Scottish Parliament where it belongs, it becomes increasingly difficult to rationalise the continued withholding of related powers.

It is an incremental process. It is gradual. But it is also an accelerating process which must, at some juncture, arrive at a tipping point. The point at which it becomes patently untenable for powers to continue being withheld. That point is likely to be reached rather sooner than most people suppose. In fact, it could readily be argued that we have already passed that highly significant milestone where the locus shifted from Westminster to Holyrood.

For too long people have been asking the wrong question. They have been asking what powers should be exercised by the Scottish Parliament. The stunningly obvious answer to that question is that Holyrood should exercise all the powers of a democratically elected parliament. Those powers rightfully belong with the body that has a mandate from the people of Scotland. To assert that a body rejected by the people of Scotland has a superior claim to authority is plainly anti-democratic.

The question we should have been asking all along is, what powers are we prepared to assign to Westminster to be exercised there rather than in the parliament that we actually voted for. Those who would allow any powers at all to be added to this list are becoming an increasingly beleaguered minority.

John Swinney’s suggestion of a Scottish Chancellor further chips away at the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. As with every other stage in this process of dismantling the anachronistic and dysfunctional political union, the idea will be met, first with ridicule; then with opposition; then with acceptance; then with claims to ownership.

And so it goes. Few will recognise it. Some will vehemently deny it. But Scotland is already in the process of transitioning to independence.