Who do we trust?

So, Patrick Harvie thinks it’s a good idea for the Scottish Government to trust the British Electoral Commission. But Patrick Harvie also thinks it a wizard wheeze to stand candidates in constituencies such as Perth & North Perthshire where the SNP’s Pete Wishart is defending a majority of less than two dozen votes. All things considered, I’m not inclined to put much faith in Mr Harvie’s judgement.

That is not to say that the British Electoral Commission is untrustworthy. It is only to say that it may not be entirely wise to take Patrick Harvie’s word for it. We should make our own assessment based on what we know, or can learn, about the British Electoral Commission and how it operates.

On paper, the British Electoral Commission looks to be sound. The organisation, which was set up in 2000, describes itself as

“The independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity.”

A trawl through the British Electoral Commission’s website is very reassuring. If one takes everything at face value. The way commissioners are appointed, the decision-making processes, the expertise all appear totally satisfactory. One might be impressed by the fact that there is a dedicated commissioner for Scotland (and Wales) and, as the third largest party in the House of Commons, the SNP gets to nominate a commissioner. On the face of it, there seems no reason to disagree with Patrick Harvie’s assessment.

But there’s another organisation which, on paper, looks every bit as independent, fair and impartial – the BBC. And we all know how different the reality is from slick presentation.

But it’s not actually about trust. Whether or not the Scottish electorate can have confidence in the British Electoral Commission is not the point. It is a question of appropriateness. Regardless of whether or not we consider the British Electoral Commission trustworthy, we have to ask whether it is appropriate for an agency of the British state to have oversight of a referendum in which the people of Scotland exercise their right of self-determination. We have to wonder about the propriety of an agency of the British state having significant authority over a referendum in which the British state itself has a massive stake.

Much fuss is made about ensuring that the new independence referendum is ‘legal and constitutional’ in order that there should be no impediment to Scotland gaining international recognition once the nation’s independence is restored. We hear rather less about the fact that what the international community is most concerned about is that the process by which independence is restored should be impeccably democratic. Nor do we hear very much about how important it is that the people of Scotland have total confidence in the process.

We are entitled to question whether the democratic validity of Scotland’s referendum – actual and perceived – is served by the involvement of the British Electoral Commission. Or whether this is likely to be regarded as external interference such as would tend to undermine the democratic legitimacy of the referendum in the eyes of the international community and the Scottish electorate.

Ask yourself this, would you trust the BBC with a formal role in the referendum process? Would you think it appropriate?

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Mhairi’s voice

If, as Mhairi Black states, the purpose of this Saturday’s rally is to “send a message to the Westminster establishment” then it will be a wasted effort. The Westminster establishment isn’t listening. The Westminster establishment doesn’t care.

Why should they care what Scotland says? The Union ensures that the Westminster establishment will always have the power to slap Scotland down. The No vote in 2014 gave the Westminster establishment a licence to do as it pleased with Scotland. The Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to the Section 30 process allays any fears the Westminster establishment might have had that the Scottish Government intended to challenge its authority. The Westminster establishment has every reason to be confident that England-as-Britain’s grip on Scotland is secure.

Sending a message to the Westminster establishment will have no effect at all. If Mhairi Black and others want to shake things up, they should be addressing their speeches to Nicola Sturgeon. They should be urging her to take a more assertive approach to the constitutional issue. They should be telling her the time has come to challenge the power of the Westminster establishment. They should be insisting that she defend the principle of popular sovereignty. That she assert the authority of the Scottish Parliament. They should be demanding that she reject the alien concept of parliamentary sovereignty

They should press her to defy the authority of the British establishment. . Authority which may be ‘legal and constitutional’ in terms of British law and the British constitution, but which can never be just or rightful in terms of fundamental democratic principles.

Speakers at The National’s rally on Saturday should not waste their time talking to a British political elite which regards them with open contempt. They would do better to use the opportunity to remind our First Minister that where Scotland goes from here is up to her. It is the decisions she makes at this time which will determine Scotland’s future. It is her actions, and the actions of her government which matter; not the Westminster establishment.

They should be pointing out to the First Minister that, if she truly believes Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands then she must accept that it will only get there if she wrests control from the Westminster establishment, rather than hoping that they might graciously give it up if she abides by their rules.

They should be emphasising that the overriding reason for seeking the restoration of Scotland’s independence is that it is right. The Union must be ended because it is wrong.

Mhairi Black’s is a powerful voice. A persuasive voice. She should not be wasting that voice talking to the Westminster establishment. She should be using it to inspire Nicola Sturgeon to be the bold, assertive leader Scotland needs.

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No miracles

Brexit can’t be fixed. The notion that there might be a “route out of this mess for the UK” is naive and nonsensical. The clock cannot be turned back. That which has been fucked cannot be unfucked. And much has been monumentally fucked by the British political elite.

What Nicola Sturgeon seems to be hoping for is a triple miracle. Firstly, a UK general election which restores some semblance of sanity to British politics. This to be followed by a second EU referendum which provides, not just a result, but a decision. Finally, an orderly return to a pre-Brexit status quo ante.

In the 1937 film adaptation of an HG Wells short story, The Man Who Could Work Miracles, the lead character – a mild-mannered haberdasher’s assistant named George Fotheringay – is granted the power to work miracles. Needless to say, he proceeds to make an almighty mess of things – albeit with the very best of intentions. His final miracle is to return everything to the way it was before he acquired the ability to mould reality.

Brexit may not be a folly quite on the same scale as George Fotheringay’s catastrophic stopping of the Earth’s rotation. But we’re not in a movie. Here in the real world, the last four years cannot be wiped from history. What has been done remains done. Little, if any, of it can be undone. The impact of Brexit is deep, wide and abiding. Repairing the damage is rather like trying to patch a pot-hole the size of the crater left by an asteroid strike.

Even if Article 50 was to be revoked, which seems exceedingly unlikely, none of the agencies, organisations and businesses which have already moved out of the UK are likely to return. Those that are in advanced stages of planning their departure may not consider it either desirable or economically feasible to reverse their plans. And that’s before we start to take account of the vast reservoir of distrust, resentment, lost credibility and bitterness that has been engendered by the reckless escapades of the Mad Brexiteers. You don’t cure that with a smear of Savlon.

Relations between the UK and the EU will be in turbulent flux for decades no matter how, or even whether, Brexit proceeds. Not only is there no easy fix, there is no fix at all.

Scotland still has the chance to escape the worst of the Brexit mess. The Union is the millstone which threatens imminently to drag us down with England’s self-destructive choice and simultaneously expose us to the threat of a rabid British Nationalism which regards Scotland’s distinctive political culture as anathema.

It wouldn’t take a miracle to save Scotland. Only a First Minister and a Scottish Government prepared to take bold, decisive action.

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Strategic failure

I’m finding all this indignant outrage and ‘poor us’ politicking from the SNP leadership really hard to stomach. It was their choice to prioritise Brexit over independence. Many of us were quite unable to discern what they hoped to achieve by this. Now wee what appears to be the outcome – Scotland being dragged out of the EU against our will and on the worst terms imaginable. What the hell did they think was going to happen?

Even before the EU referendum, it was perfectly obvious to those of us whose views are considered worthless by the SNP hierarchy that the only way to ensure the will of Scotland’s people was respected was to dissolve the Union. It was clear to us that the SNP’s posturing on the Brexit issue was pointless and to the detriment of Scotland’s cause. It always seemed plainly evident that the SNP was never going to have any influence over the final form of Brexit, far less stop it altogether.

Think for a moment how different things might be if the SNP had spent the last four years working on getting Scotland out of the Union rather than trying to save England from its own folly. Consider that the party which proudly proclaimed its ambition to foil the Mad Brexiteers lacked the ambition to defend us against the iniquities of British Nationalism.

Nothing has been gained. The policy of focusing all but entirely on Brexit while leaving the independence issue to simmer has brought us absolutely nothing. The mythical Brexit effect has yet to have any impact on the polls. After all that shmoozing with EU leaders they’ve struck a deal with the Brits that could prove ruinous for Scotland. It’s a massive failure of political strategy.

And still we are told that we must not question Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to the Section 30 process. Nicola knows best! Have faith in Nicola! Time was when I would have gone along with that. But I am a realist. I have to go with the evidence. And, right now, all the evidence suggests that there is something seriously amiss with the Scottish Government’s strategic thinking.

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Heroic politicians and honourable opponents

Perhaps the Institute for Government could explain exactly what it is that makes continuing refusal of a Section 30 order “unsustainable”. What prevents the British government responding as it has indefinitely?

From Theresa May’s “now is not the time” to Boris Johnson’s regurgitation of the “once in a generation” nonsense, British Prime Ministers have shown themselves to be extremely adept at batting away formal and informal requests for a Section 30 order. They have sustained the position rather well. So, what is going to make it unsustainable? Neither the Institute for Government nor the SNP seem able to answer that question.

Neither do they address the matter of what happens if Westminster and Holyrood fail to approve the terms of a new referendum after a Section 30 order has been granted. Which seems strange given how obvious it is that it would be in the British state’s interest to have these negotiations fail, and being mindful of the numerous ways in which the British political elite might contrive to make them fail.

Far more of the Scottish Government’s strategy relies on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British establishment than I can possibly be comfortable with. But I am all too well aware that I am in a minority. Voice such concerns to a group of SNP members or Yes activists and the responses will generally fall into two forms of wishful thinking. Either the triumph of naive hope over bitter experience of insisting that “they [the British government] wouldn’t do that!”; or the triumph of faith over intellect implicit in the insistence that “Nicola will have a plan”.

Just don’t ask what that plan might look like. Not unless you want to be dragged into the garish wonderland of fantasy politics where the British political elite’s regard for public opinion is a factor and heroic politicians always have an unforeseen and unforeseeable trick up their sleeve which will save the day for the good guys just before the end credits roll.

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AUOB Edinburgh 2019 Speech

The following is the text of a speech delivered at the
#AUOBEdinburgh March & Rally on 5 October 2019.

What is the best thing the SNP has done?

The party has been in government now for more than 12 years. Pretty much everybody bar the bitter, blinkered, bigoted British Nationalists agree that they’ve done a reasonable job.

The voters certainly seem well enough pleased. Ask most of them and they’ll say “SNP? They’re a’ right!”

Some might even wax passionate enough to say “They’re no bad!”

But what’s the single best thing they’ve done for Scotland?

You’ll all have your own ideas about that. But I’ve got my own particular favourite.

For a long time, if you’d asked me what’s the best thing the SNP ever did in government, I’d have picked getting rid of that demeaning ‘Scottish Executive’ title and becoming a real Scottish Government!

That was important. That sent a message to the British establishment. That told them “Hey! That’s the end of the pretendy! There will be no more pretendy!”

I wouldn’t pick that now. Not because it isn’t important, but because it led to something even more important.

The SNP administration back then didn’t just say they were a real government, they acted like a real government. So much so that now, nobody doubts it. We take it for granted.

Scotland has a real government and a real parliament. A government with a real mandate from the people. A parliament with real democratic legitimacy.

The British political elite don’t like it! But that’s the way it is. Successive SNP administrations have made Holyrood the locus of Scottish politics. That’s my candidate for the most significant thing they’ve done.

The SNP has brought Scotland’s politics back to Scotland. Now they just have to bring Scotland’s government back to Scotland. All of it!

And that’s where we hit a couple of wee snags.

Having very successfully made the Scottish Parliament the main arena for politics in Scotland, our political leaders now seem intent on moving the focus back to Westminster.

Brexit! I don’t have much to say about it. There isn’t much that need be said about it. There’s only three things people in Scotland need to know about Brexit.

  1. Brexit cannot be fixed. The British political elite have screwed things up in a manner that is remarkable even for them. There is no way to fix Brexit.
  2. There is no Brexit deal that can negate Scotland’s Remain vote.
  3. Brexit is not our problem.

So why the hell are our political leaders so obsessed with it? Why are they embroiled in what’s going on at Westminster? Scotland’s politics isn’t done at Westminster! It’s done here in Edinburgh – Scotland’s capital city.

“Oh but we’ll be affected by Brexit!”, I hear people say. ”We can’t get away from it!”

Of course we’ll be affected! All the more reason our politicians should be here in Edinburgh working on solutions for Scotland instead of getting tangled up in England’s mess.

Scotland’s politics has to be done in Scotland. We won’t find solutions in Westminster. Westminster won’t act for us. Westminster won’t protect Scotland’s interests. We have to do that ourselves… here… in Scotland!

And that includes a new referendum on Scotland’s constitutional status. Why would we give Westminster an effective veto over our referendum?

Why would we let Westminster set conditions and make rules for our referendum?

Why would we accept Westminster being involved in any way in our referendum?

Yet that is precisely what the Section 30 process does. It moves vital aspects of our referendum out of Scotland and hands them over to Westminster.

Scotland’s new independence referendum must be entirely made and managed in Scotland. Our First Minister must seize control of the process. Our Government must legislate for the process. Our Parliament must have oversight of the process.

It’s our referendum!

It is our referendum and there must be no external interference!

It’s our right of self-determination, therefore it is our referendum!

It doesn’t belong to the First Minister, or to the Scottish Government, or even to the Scottish Parliament. The referendum belongs to the people of Scotland!

The legal validity of our referendum rests on a solid body of international laws and conventions.

The democratic legitimacy of our referendum derives from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

Our referendum has nothing to do with Westminster! And Westminster should have nothing to do with our referendum!

Let’s walk away for Brexit!

Let’s walk away from Section 30!

Let’s walk away from Westminster!

Let’s walk away from the Union!

Let’s bring Scotland’s government home!

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Out of the mouths of dolts and dullards

If The Independent’s preview of Boris Johnson’s speech to the British Conservative Party conference is accurate, then it is interesting that he seems to acknowledge the possibility of a constitutional referendum in Scotland in 2020.

The bulk of Johnson’s address will, as expected, be an agglomeration of bluster and braggadocio, peppered with half-truths and less, all for the purpose of shifting blame for the Brexit shambles onto the EU. The tale that will be told is an epic saga of Boris the Bold standing alone against the massed forces of Johnny Foreigner intent on sullying British purity with their alien ways. Or, at least, that is how it will sound to Johnson and the Mad Brexiteers who worship and admire him almost as much as he worships and admires himself.

But it is the following passage which catches the eye of Scottish readers, and those frantically looking for something to divert from the awfulness of the Boris/Brexit nexus.

Jeremy Corbyn’s plan would turn 2020 into a year of “chaos and cacophony” with potentially two referendums, on EU membership and Scottish independence, the prime minister will claim.

Getting past the rather quaint notion of Jeremy Corbyn having a plan and not stopping to wonder what it is that has prevailed for the past three years if 2020 is to see the advent of “chaos and cacophony” , we come to the bit about a Scottish independence referendum. What can it mean.

This being Boris Johnson, it may mean nothing at all. Words and phrases tumble out of the malignant child clown’s head the way rubbish tips out of a bin lorry at the landfill site. (There’s a great analogy for the Tory conference in there somewhere. Imagine the media as voracious gulls swooping and squabbling over the mouldering morsels strewn by British politicians.)

But it is also possible that Johnson is purposefully letting something slip. We must never lose sight of the fact that much of the famous Boris buffoonery is a facade. Behind the motley lurks an undoubtedly defective but nonetheless darkly calculating mind. And behind that is gathered a coterie of tablet-wielding minders tasked with ensuring their master’s head is kept topped-up with banalities and inanities.

The reference to a Scottish independence referendum could imply that Johnson is preparing to grant a Section 30 order in what will doubtless be portrayed as a gracious and generous response to Nicola Sturgeon’s grovelling. (And before you get on my case, remember that this is us looking inside Johnson’s mind.)

It may be that Johnson has been sold the idea that he can wrong-foot the First Minister by denying her at least one line of grievance. (Boris’s mind!) He hints at conceding a Section 30 order to take the wind out of that particular sail and distract from the foundering hulk of his Brexit ‘plan’.

And why not? He has nothing to lose by granting a Section 30 order. And plenty to gain both from keeping the bait dangling for a while and ensuring that subsequent negotiations between the two governments are protracted and ultimately sunk by the British state’s unacceptable demands. Having the Section 30 process bubbling away like some noxious broth in the background might serve to spike the guns of those uppity Jocks silly demands for independence. (Again! Boris’s mind!) If they start going on about it, we just get our accomplices in the media to put out some stuff accusing them of pointless whining and of trying to sabotage the negotiations. There’s that blame-shifting again!

Meanwhile, as the Scottish Government is being tied in knots by British ‘negotiators’ making outlandish demands and the Scottish public are distracted by the Section 30 theatrics, the British state continues to roll out its ‘One Nation’ project to eradicate Scotland’s distinctive political culture and dismantle our democratic institutions..

Johnson’s words should not be dismissed and the drivelling of a dullard. At the very least, they hint at how relaxed he is about the granting of a Section 30 order. We would do well to reflect on why this might be.

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