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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The aim

I think after all of the experience of the last three years, Scotland should have the opportunity to decide whether we want to become an independent European nation.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

First Minister,

As you will surely be aware, the constitution of the Scottish National Party states the aims of the party as follows –

(a) Independence for Scotland; that is the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furthering international cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.

(b) The furtherance of all Scottish interests.

Constitution of the Scottish National Party

The first of these aims could just as readily stand as a mission statement for the entire independence movement. That is why the Scottish National Party is the de facto political arm of that movement. That is why you, as leader of the party, are the person to whom the Yes movement looks for leadership. That is why, ultimately, you are the individual in whom is invested the hope and trust of every man, woman and child who is part of the Yes movement.

It is that single objective which unites us. Regardless of our views on any issue of public policy, we are all bound by that common purpose. Whatever differences there may be in our vision of Scotland’s future, we all share that same aspiration – the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament.

There is no ambiguity about that stated aim. There is no equivocation. No caveats or conditions. No reservations or qualifications or provisions. It embraces and enshrines the essential principle of democracy – that all legitimate political authority derives from the people. That the people are sovereign. It is a complete, concise and coherent statement. It says all that need be said. Understand that statement, and you understand everything that matters about Scotland’s independence cause.

To reject that statement would be to reject democracy. To fail to vigorously and unhesitatingly pursue the aims set out in that statement would be a betrayal of Scotland’s interests and Scotland’s cause.

So, First Minister, please allow me to suggest a couple of amendments to the comment you made to Andrew Marr.

I think after all of the experience of the last three HUNDRED years, Scotland should DEMAND that it become an independent European nation AGAIN!


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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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BLiSsful ignorance

If you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle

There are many reasons why British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is so lamentably failing to address the electoral challenge of the Scottish National Party (SNP). But the ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, may have captured the essence of this failure in the aphorism quoted above.

As a political campaigning organisation pretending to be a political party, BLiS lacks that essential attribute – a clear vision of what it is and what it stands for. Like any organisation which so completely loses sight of its purpose, BLiS has come to serve only its own perpetuation. It no longer has any objective other than survival. It has no focus outside its own organisational structure. It has no locus other than the machinery of the British political system. It exists only because it has existed. And because its continued existence provides some sort of career prospects for a certain clique.

It’s not clear at what point BLiS ceased to be defined by the core principles of a socialist movement. With hindsight, it is possible to see how the Blairite obsession with power and expediency so weakened the links to these core principles as to leave BLiS ripe for transition to an organisation absolutely defined by jealous resentment of and visceral opposition to the party which offended its towering sense of entitlement.

Whatever the historical process involved, there is no denying where BLiS is now. It survives as an empty, hollow thing suspended in a limbo of political pointlessness; anchored to Scottish society only by the increasingly frayed and brittle lifelines provided by the British media. It has no political identity. It has no ethos. It has no plan.

From out of this void come voices every bit as vacuous as the organisation from which they emanate. Voices which speak, only to emphasise the absence of any meaningful message. To hear these voices is to understand just how bereft of ideas BLiS is. There is no coherence. Everything sounds as if it is being spouted on the spur of the moment. Not thoughtful responses, but impromptu retorts and off-the-cuff interventions.

There is a pervasive sense that, every time Kezia Dugdale opens her mouth, she is like an ill-bred child rudely interrupting a serious conversation between the SNP (along with a few others) and the people of Scotland.

As little as BLiS know themselves, they know their ‘enemy’ – the SNP – very much less. Because they know less than nothing. Here is Dugdale at her fatuous best addressing the BLiS conference,

That’s the difference between socialism and nationalism.

I know that where you are born is an accident of birth, a geographical lottery.

I can’t base my political vision on that.

I didn’t come into politics to help those at the top of Scottish society, just because they are Scottish.

Nor would I turn my cheek to a child living in poverty just because they are born on the other side of a dotted line on a map.

I came into politics to make sure that where you are born doesn’t matter.

I want a country where the place you are going in life isn’t determined by where you began your life.

That’s what being Scottish means to me.

It’s not the idea of Scotland that I love.

It’s the people of Scotland.

How to make any sense out of this! Never mind the fact that she can’t seem to make up her mind whether the people of Scotland are insignificant or all-important. Never mind the confusion in the argument that Scotland doesn’t matter and being Scottish doesn’t matter, but being a person born in Scotland does matter. Or does it? Who the hell knows?

There are rather disturbing hints here of distasteful ethnic nationalism desperately trying to disguise itself with sugary rhetoric.

But it is also clear that Dugdale is not addressing the SNP as we know it but, rather, some grotesque caricature of the party conjured in the minds of British nationalist zealots and those whose rancorous hatred of the SNP has crippled their intellect. It is clear that Dugdale does not know her ‘enemy’. It is obvious that she has completely failed to grasp the concept of civic nationalism.

What we have from Dugdale is, not so much a speech, as a collection of noises made by someone with nothing to say. Not only is there a complete lack of understanding of the SNP and its appeal to voters, there is not even an attempt at understanding. It is evident that neither Dugdale nor, as far as can be discerned, anybody else in BLiS has made any effort to understand their electoral foe. And this is why they are, in the words of Sun Tzu, “imperilled in every single battle”.

Such analysis involves asking questions. Most of all, it requires a willingness and capacity to question ones own assumptions. If Dugdale would better know her ‘enemy’ then she could do worse than ask herself this; if the SNP is as she imagines it to be, what does this say about the 115,000 people who have joined the party? Or the thousands more who have declared their intention to vote for the SNP – including members of other parties? What does it say about the 73% of Scotland’s people who say that they trust the SNP administration?In the heat of her anti-SNP fervour, Dugdale grossly insults the very people she claims to “love”.

BLiS has no clear idea of what it’s for. BLiS has no idea at all of what it’s against.

I’m pretty sure Sun Tzu would advise Dugdale to desist from mindlessly lashing out at the SNP at least long enough to have a stab at identifying what it is about the party that has struck a chord with the voters. He might even suggest that, having identified this factor, she attempt to emulate it in some way. We might suppose that he would counsel her to reflect on the possibility that it is not the larger par of the Scottish electorate which is wrong – as she persists in implying – but the SNP that is doing something right.

It’s a radical idea for BLiS, but they might consider respecting the judgement of Scotland’s people. The people know both sides. Only their assessment of the political contestants is of any consequence. And their verdict is pretty clear. BLiS might do well to heed what the people are telling them. That way, they may just get to better know their ‘enemy’. And themselves.

That’s the difference between socialism and nationalism.
I know that where you are born is an accident of birth, a geographical lottery.
I can’t base my political vision on that.
I didn’t come into politics to help those at the top of Scottish society, just because they are Scottish.
Nor would I turn my cheek to a child living in poverty just because they are born on the other side of a dotted line on a map.
I came into politics to make sure that where you are born doesn’t matter.
I want a country where the place you are going in life isn’t determined by where you began your life.
That’s what being Scottish means to me.
It’s not the idea of Scotland that I love.
It’s the people of Scotland.
– See more at: http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk/blog/entry/kezias-speech-to-scotlab16#sthash.WOYLRUSr.dpuf

Being irrelevant

I find it intriguing that we should be expected to take such a close interest in the views of the Scottish Tories’ leaderette. How things have changed! Only a few weeks ago, the Tories were generally regarded as a toxic irrelevance in Scottish politics. Now, due to the continuing precipitous decline of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), Ruth Davidson seems almost significant.

But look at the underlying issue here and we find that it is the same problem that besets all of the British parties in Scotland. The question being asked of Ruth Davidson is to what extent she toes the line drawn by her bosses in London. The very same question as constantly hangs over Kezia Dugdale.

Take the analysis a stage further and we come to an even more pertinent question. Does it matter? Supposing the British Tories’ leaderette and/or the BLiS office manager in Scotland were to disagree with their respective superiors down south, what difference would it make? In both cases, it is what London says that matters. It is what London decides that will be effective. In every instance and in all matters, the Davidson/Dugdale double-act will be overruled by the Westminster elite. They don’t decide what party policy is. Neither is a real leader of a real party.

Davidson’s views on the British state’s latest round of punitive measures against the vulnerable matter only to the extent that disagreement with her bosses might offer a titillating diversion. It’s an opportunity for some finger-pointing and taunting. It’s no more than that.

Ultimately, Davidson’s policy preferences are of no more relevance than Dugdale’s. Both are mere front-persons for the British establishment parties’ operations in Scotland. They do not make policy. At most, they attempt to splash a bit of tartan paint on the policies set by head office.

Which begs our next question. How can the British parties in Scotland possibly have any meaningful role in Scottish politics when they are unable to formulate policies that are relevant to Scotland’s increasingly distinctive political culture?

Does it really matter to the people of Scotland which of the British parties occupies the seats reserved for the official opposition at Holyrood when, to coin a phrase, they are mere ‘conveyor belts’ for the policy agenda of a British ruling elite completely in thrall to neo-liberal orthodoxy and British nationalist ideology?

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.

Let’s talk about independence

Hands up everyone among the 115,000 SNP members who is grateful to Poor Old Cockers for explaining to them why they signed up. Nobody? That’s what I thought. After all who would place any value on the conclusions of someone who persists in congratulating himself on having engineered Alex Salmond’s ‘downfall’, despite the fact that Mr Salmond’s career has continued to flourish in ways that must rouse great jealousy in most other former party leaders and holders of high office. Surely someone so deluded is vanishingly unlikely to have anything sensible to say about… well… anything, really.

Readers not afflicted with the virulent form of British nationalist fervour that afflicts Poor Old Cockers are like to have noticed that, while the fool accuses those SNP members of being obsessed with the first referendum and claims that ‘we wuz robbed!’, it is in fact he who is still banging on about the 2014 vote. He and his fellow British nationalist fanatics just don’t seem to be able to let it go. They seem to need to constantly remind and reassure themselves that they actually won. Time does not seem to be helping them deal with the hollowness of a victory in which all the prizes went to their hated opponents.

Of course, events just keep picking at the scab on their bitter resentment. The reviled SNP goes from strength to electoral strength. In the British nationalists’ more orgasmic triumphalist fantasies, the party was to shrivel up and die in the wake of defeat in the first referendum. That contrast between fantasy and reality is clearly hard to deal with.

The collapse in the price of oil was greeted with drooling glee by these same British nationalist fanatics. They fervently hoped that it would bring economic ruin to Scotland. They relished the prospect of gloating over the measureless misery of Scotland’s people. But the cup of schadenfreude that was supposed to runneth over has turned out to be empty of all but the bitter lees that have further soured the mood of hard-line unionist ideologues. The oil-price collapse has had no more than a barely perceptible impact. British nationalists, who had hoped for endless feasting on Scotland’s misfortunes, find themselves instead forced to resort to their standard tactics of disinformation and lies – banging on about an entirely imaginary fiscal ‘black hole’.

As if all this was not enough to feed the bilious rancour of Poor Old Cockers and his ilk, they are further driven to distraction by the realisation, increasingly forced upon them despite the barricades of arrogant delusion, that nobody is listening to them any more. Few people hear their shrill and hateful voices. Fewer still believe what those voices say.

What Poor Old Cockers and his ilk crave is power. The power to persuade. They regard themselves as ‘opinion formers’. They fancy themselves masters of manipulation. Nothing aggravates them more than knowing that their smearing, lying, fear-mongering efforts are to no avail.

Not that this stops the lies. Poor Old Cockers claims that Nicola Sturgeon announced a new initiative to build support for another referendum. In fact, what she announced was a new initiative to build support for independence. The difference is significant in ways that Poor Old Cockers is not equipped to understand.

In a toe-curlingly embarrassing effort to position herself as the figurehead for British nationalism in Scotland, Ruth Davidson responded to Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement by launching a petition to oppose a second referendum. This was idiotic in so many ways. Not least, the fact that she’s just as cloth-eared as Poor Old Cockers and has failed to either hear what Sturgeon said or comprehend the implications. And what does she hope to achieve with this daft petition? If she gets anything less than half the voters in Scotland to sign she will have proved the precise opposite of what was intended. In the vastly more likely event that she gets only a derisory response, she will be left looking as silly as if she had herself photographed straddling some massive military hardware.

What neither Davidson or Poor Old Cockers have the wits to realise is that they are the only ones obsessing about a second referendum. (While still carping about the first one!) The SNP has moved on. What Nicola Sturgeon announced was not a drive to secure a second referendum. She knows that this will happen anyway, when the time is right. It is not about building demand for another referendum. It is about articulating the case for independence.

People like Poor Old Cockers no longer have any power to persuade because the obviousness of the disconnect between their bigoted perspective and observable reality is just too great. Even a moderately astute observer can see what Sturgeon is doing, even if it is invisible to the closed minds of British nationalist fanatics. This summer will see a revival of the Scottish independence movement that unionists thought they had killed stone dead. The SNP, together with the wider independence movement, is set to re-engage with the fundamental constitutional issue that the British establishment has sought to bury under an avalanche of economic drivel and arguments about procedural niceties.

While unionists continue to rant about imagined ‘once in a generation’ pledges and imaginary fiscal ‘black holes’, we will be talking about how independence is normal. While they wallow in their fantasies of Scotland’s social and economic disintegration, we will be talking about the potential benefits of bringing our government home.

While the British establishment mounts a frantic last-ditch defence of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state and serve its ruling elites, we will be talking about the sovereignty of the people, and the simple good sense of having our country run by those we elect, rather than those we reject.