I have questions

Like many people in Scotland, I suspect, I have been struggling to come to terms with a seemingly inexplicable contradiction. I can illustrate the problem with a couple of comments culled from Twitter – both from Nicola Sturgeon. (Ignore the BBC Tweets as you would normally.)

The first is a near-perfect political statement. The wording, the tone, the content, the entire package is almost flawless. I’d advise any politician to avoid phrases such as “I’ve made clear”. If you have made something clear then it should be clear and it must therefore be entirely redundant to state that you’ve made it clear. If you feel the need to state that you’ve made it clear then this can only be because you haven’t, in fact, made it clear at all. Or so people will tend to assume. It is one of those overused phrases which have come to suggest the very opposite of what it says. It’s the kind of thing people use when they want to caricature a generic politician. Unless you want to be that caricature, don’t say “I’ve made it clear”. You might as well end every statement with the words “Honest! Would I lie to you?”.

A textual analysis of that first post would strongly suggest an exceptionally astute politician and a very capable communicator. It’s hard to believe that the second example was authored by the same person. The words “It’s got nothing to do with the constitution” would be woefully naive enough coming from any politician. But from the leader of a party which has a fundamental constitutional issue at its very core, it is nothing short of jaw-droppingly stupid.

The leader of a party which has as its principal aim the restoration of Scotland’s independence should never be caught talking down the importance of constitutional matters. Their every instinct should be tuned to emphasising the overarching importance of the constitution. Because the constitution is about who decides. It is about where power lies and how it is used. It is about political legitimacy and authority. The constitution, and any issues or questions relating thereto, takes precedence over all matters of policy. It must do. Because the constitution defines, describes and delineates decision-making authority in all matters of policy. It is senseless to claim that anything has “nothing to do with the constitution” because the constitution has something to do with everything.

It is a doubly foolish remark on account of the angry denial of constitutional relevance being immediate followed by an observation which points up the relevance of the constitution as well as anything might. When Nicola Sturgeon says “the ‘stay at home’ message remains in place in 3 of the 4 UK nations” she is referring explicitly and directly to the constitutional issue of policy decision-making power. The contradiction is jarring. The statement as a whole speaks of a politician quite unlike the one revealed by the first Tweet. It suggests a politician who simply doesn’t understand the function and purpose of the constitution. How can the person who is so dismissive of the constitution possibly be the leader of a party whose constitution declares its first aim to be arguably the most fundamental constitutional reform there can be?

That is the nub of it. That is what I and others find both perplexing and disturbing. On the one hand we have someone who is all but universally acknowledged to be an outstanding politician. Someone who earns all the plaudits that come her way. Someone who deserves the trust that is placed in her by the public. Someone who, with due regard for her feminist credentials, is worthy of being described as ‘statesmanlike’.

On the other hand we have someone who bears ultimate responsibility for bringing the independence campaign to a grinding halt. It can readily and persuasively be argued that the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence has gone backwards under her stewardship. We look at Nicola Sturgeon’s record as First Minister and see mostly uncommon competence. We look at her record as de facto leader of the independence movement and see only serial misjudgement. We watch in admiration her handling of the current public health crisis. We watch in horror her handling of the constitutional issue. It’s as if we are looking at two different people.

Retiring SNP MSP James Dornan is also perplexed, it seems. If I understand aright from his column in The National, Mr Dornan is baffled by the fact that some people who in his opinion “should know better” are troubled by the ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ situation described above. He seems to be perplexed about why we are perplexed about the perplexing contradictions in Nicola Sturgeon’s comments and the curate’s egg of her performance.

In keeping with this incomprehension, Mr Dornan seems unable to distinguish between the SNP as an administration and the SNP as a political party. Not exactly a trivial distinction. He also appears to be a bit confused about the purpose of political campaigning. He is dismissive, if not disdainful, of those who maintain discourse in “their own bubble of like-minded people”. He neglects to explain how it can be both “their own bubble” and a bubble they share with “like-minded people”. More importantly, how and where does he imagine discourse relating to a particular issue might proceed other than in just such a bubble. Is it not to be expected that those involved in a campaign should be “like-minded”?

Contrary to what James Dornan seems to suppose, there is nothing at all wrong with ‘preaching to the choir’, as some would put it. How else might a campaign be developed and maintained other than by those involved talking to each other?

As if we didn’t already have a considerable surfeit of perplexity, I am unable to understand why the First Minister’s unquestionably laudable handling of the coronavirus pandemic would forfend criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in other areas. The good must be weighed with the bad. It might sensibly be argued that the good outweighs the bad. But it cannot reasonably be maintained that the good completely eradicates the bad. I recall being counselled by a very close friend who had a hard neck giving anybody relationship advice. He said that when a man sees a beautiful woman – poised, elegant, decorous – he should always bear in mind that she farts in bed. We all have our faults. Nobody is perfect. Although, if James Dornan is to be believed, Nicola Sturgeon comes very close. So long as we completely disregard the reality of what she has done to the independence campaign.

But, unsurprisingly, Mr Dornan agrees with Nicola Sturgeon that there should be no independence campaign at this time. We are all supposed to sit at home thinking about nothing else but Covid-19. We all must be totally and exclusively focused on coronavirus-related matters. To entertain so much as a passing thought on any matter other than the mono-crisis is to show callous disregard for those who have died, scant concern for those who may die and disrespect for the front-line key-worker heroes and angels who care for the suffering.

I exaggerate for effect, of course. James Dornan doesn’t go to such lengths. Although others certainly do. Nonetheless, his attitude is painfully reminiscent of the dour religionists who blighted many a childhood holiday on the Isle of Arran with the diktat proclaimed on behalf of a deity with too much time on her hands (she shouldn’t have made so much) that Sunday must be a day of profound and often inelegantly contrived inactivity. I well recall the swings and roundabouts ironically made equal in their uselessness by chains and padlocks. I still can hear the stern warnings from the Joysucker General’s deputies that to contemplate the kicking of a football on the Sabbath would result in consignment to a hell which to my child’s mind at least, could not possible be worse than the one I had to endure on a weekly basis.

One might wonder whether James Dornan is toying with damnation (inc. hellfire) by taking time out from his fretting over the virus to write a newspaper column. That, as they say, is between him and his conscience.

Similarly, Mr Dornan and those who populate his “bubble of like-minded people” take the view that all of politics and most of life has been brought to a halt by Covid-19. Which rather seems like conceding victory to the virus. This isn’t managing a crisis. It is being dominated by it. Managing a crisis is, almost by definition, keeping as much as possible as normal as possible under the circumstances. Which, incidentally, is what makes the First Minister’s management of the situation so admirable. She may not have been able to keep very much very normal, but she succeeds in persuading people that this is what she is striving for. And that the measures she has taken are normal under the circumstances.

I have to tell James Dornan that politics does not stop for a virus. Politics doesn’t stop for anything. All of life is politics. So long as there is human life there will be politics. Because politics is the management of power relationships – from the interpersonal all the way to the international and sooner than many imagine, the interplanetary. All human interactions are transactions conducted in the currency of power. From chimpanzees grooming in the forests of tropical Africa to ambassadors manoeuvring in the UN building in New York, it’s all politics. From the minute to the monumental, it’s all the power trades and trade-offs which allow society to function. Negotiations continue.

You can’t stop politics. Your involvement only ends with death. Sometimes not even then. You can opt out of certain aspects of the negotiations. But the politics goes on without you. And it may not be possible to catch up.

Here’s James Dorman,

Now, I’m a pretty tribal political animal but I would not be comfortable at all if our party was trying to put independence at the forefront of our thinking just now. Thankfully, outside of a few loud voices in Westminster and some activists online I think most of the party would agree with me.

Concentrate on seeing our people safely through this virus, get politics back to normal, or as normal as anything is going to be after this pandemic, and I have no doubt we will see the support for independence rise substantially.

James Dornan: Why independence cannot be the SNP’s priority for now

I have some questions. I have so many questions!

Those loud voices at Westminster and online may be few, but does that make them wrong? Why are there no such voices in Holyrood? Why only Westminster and online? Isn’t the Scottish Parliament the place where we would hope and expect voices to be raised in defence of Scotland’s cause?

Has the public really suspended all concerns other than the virus? Does Mr Dornan suppose we think and talk about nothing else? Given that it ranged over a multitude of topics which could not even pretend to be coronavirus-related, how strongly would James Dornan have disapproved of the WhatsApp video chat I enjoyed (and I mean enjoyed!) with a well-known independence activist yesterday?

How can independence not be the SNP’s priority now and always? How can independence not be at the forefront of the party’s thinking now and always? Has Mr Dornan ever read the party’s constitution? Has the commitment to restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status been removed?

Do any of of us need James Dornan to tell us that the public health crisis must be the Scottish Government’s priority right now? Would it not be more helpful if he used his column to explain why this necessarily means that the SNP and everybody else must cease and desist from all independence-related activity and even discussion until we’re told it’s OK to carry on?

Is James Dornan genuinely so ignorant of the real, on-the-ground effects of lockdown as to be unaware that there are thousands of people who are neither front-line nor key-workers but who are stuck at home abiding by our First Minister’s strictures and with little else to do but engage with others online? Is he truly oblivious to the opportunity that this affords the Yes campaign? Why is he so determined that we should not seize this opportunity? Why the intense effort by the SNP leadership to close down completely the entire independence campaign?

Does James Dorman seriously imagine that we will just be able to pick up where we left off? (Does anyone think that was a good place anyway?) Is he really pinning all our hopes for independence on a grateful electorate rewarding Nicola Sturgeon for her handling of the crisis – even when she herself has declared that “it’s got nothing to do with the constitution”?

Is James Dorman persuaded that the virus has stopped the forces of British Nationalism to the same extent as he hopes to stop the campaign for independence? Have his years in politics taught him nothing?

On one thing James Dorman and I agree. We are most certainly beset by “opportunists seeking to gain advantage, not for the cause of independence but for themselves”. We have the ‘cunning plan’ parties looking to exploit the very dissatisfaction with the SNP that he and his “bubble of like-minded people” have engendered. But what of those who are trying to silence Yes activists and put the entire independence campaign into a covid-induced coma? Should we not reckon on them having an agenda? Should we not suppose that they too are seeking advantage for themselves or something that is definitely not the campaign for independence?



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Unappealing options

As you get older and your memory starts to deteriorate, you have to deal with an increasing number of problems. You graduate from forgetting to do things to forgetting whether you’ve done things. Just as you get used to being unable to recall names, you start to forget faces. No sooner have you figured out a coping mechanism for that than the next – and probably the worst – stage is upon you and you begin to imagine you recognise faces. Before long, you start to dread leaving the house as every encounter with people involves a stressful struggle with fading faculties.

Similarly, having just resigned yourself to your inability to hold information in your head – such as your children’s names and, betimes, your own – you start reading or hearing bits and pieces of information and thinking you’ve already been given that information, but have forgotten. This may seem trivial, but if the information is important or significant or time-sensitive, it can cause flashes of panic such as an older person can well do without.

I had one on those momentary panic attacks this morning on opening the Sunday National to learn that “Nicola Sturgeon last week set out the next steps on indyref2 after the rejection of a Section 30 order by Boris Johnson“. Did she? How could I have forgotten that? What were these “next steps”?

As the panic subsided I realised this was just a case of a journalist looking for a good scene-setting opening for their article and plumping for one that plays small havoc with the reality. Of course, we’re still waiting to hear what the “next steps” are. A statement has been promised for next week – Wednesday, I think, but don’t take my word for it – when we may learn something memorable.

Not that there will be any great surprises. As Judith Duffy demonstrates when she’s done giving me palpitations, there aren’t that many options and, unless the First Minister has conjured something so novel as to be beyond imagining by anyone else, all the options are known. Judith helpfully lists them and examines each in turn. Almost as if she’s trying to make amends for that opening sentence.

The first, and many feel the most likely option is continuing to push for a Section 30 order, perhaps with the possibility of cross-party support thrown in to give the impression of something new. Not just Section 30 but Section 30 plus! New improved Section 30 with added grudging and condition-ridden concessions to democracy from a handful of British politicians.

Somehow contriving polling indications of a rise in support for independence and/or a new referendum is supposed to add to the pressure on Boris Johnson to change his mind about allowing us to exercise a right he has no legitimate authority to stop us exercising. Pressure that is presently notable only for its absence. Boris Johnson sleeps easy with a very strong hand which includes an 80-strong majority in the House of Commons, sovereignty of parliament enshrined in law by way of the Brexit Act and, of course, the Union. All of which militate against him feeling any pressure at all no matter how often Nicola Sturgeon ‘demands’ a Section 30 order. And no matter how many opposition politicians and assorted celebrities and academics take her side in the matter.

There may be an explanation here for the FM’s delay in responding to Johnson’s totally anticipated Section 30 knock-back. She may be waiting in hope that the first post-election poll(s) will show a significant rise in support for independence. She will be doubly relieved should she get her wish in this regard. She will be glad to see increasing support for independence, of course. But she will also be quietly relieved to have an excuse for continuing to try rely on the goodwill of a British government which, to date, has shown only ill-will in all matters relating to Scotland.

By persisting with the Section 30 process Nicola Sturgeon isn’t only hoping Boris Johnson will change his mind, she’s hoping he’ll undergo a change to his very nature. This conjures images of a cocooned ugly Boris caterpillar emerging as a beautiful butterfly having metamorphosed in the gentle heat of ‘pressure’ from various sources – none of which the now-transformed grotesque Boris-bug held in any regard at all.

Moving on before the corrosiveness of my cynicism about option one burns a hole in my laptop screen, next on Judith’s list is the option of holding a referendum without a Section 30 order. I think this is what is meant by the ridiculous term ‘DIY referendum’. As if there could be any other kind. A flat-pack referendum from IKEA, perhaps? Or a ready-made referendum advertised as requiring no home assembly with free next-day delivery for Amazon Prime subscribers? Maybe the alternative to a ‘DIY referendum’ is one held on our behalf by the Swiss – them having lots of experience. Or maybe it’s just a daft term that we should consign to the bin without further thought.

This option has been suggested by, among others, SNP MSP Alex Neil. He has called for Holyrood to hold its own “consultative vote” on independence. Another rather silly term given that every plebiscite is a consultation with the electorate. But by calling a referendum ‘consultative’ or ‘advisory’ it is implied that the result won’t, or won’t necessarily, have any effect. No immediate or automatic action will flow from the result. It’s a referendum that needn’t cause Unionists any concerns as it will do nothing and change nothing. Other than, maybe, the ‘dynamic’ of the constitutional debate.

What distinguishes this option is that it is normal. This is the way it would be done anywhere else. The government would make a judgement that there was sufficient public demand for a referendum and the whole thing would be dealt with under the auspices of parliament with oversight by some kind of electoral commission. Normality is NOT asking the permission of or inviting interference from any ‘foreign’ agency. If Scotland were a normal country, there would be no obstacles or hindrances to the people of Scotland exercising their right of self-determination.

However it may be dressed up, the real reason for rejecting this option is that Scotland is not a normal country. Scotland is, as has been explained elsewhere, more akin to annexed territory than a nation which is party to a voluntary political union. The difference being that the latter would have direct and unimpeded access to a process by which the political union could be discontinued. Because of the Union, we cannot freely exercise our right of self-determination. And because we can’t freely exercise our right of self-determination, we remain bound by the Union which denies us our sovereignty and our basic democratic rights.

Scotland is effectively annexed by England and trapped. As somebody once said of the 1707 Union, England has caught hold of Scotland and is disinclined to let go.

Next on Judith Duffy’s list of things Nicola Sturgeon might consider as a “next step” is the option of challenging the refusal of a Section 30 order in court. According to the experts, the success of such a legal challenge would be dubious at best. And even winning isn’t winning, because the British state can simply change the law so as to cancel out the win. And even if the case is won and the British state accepts defeat then all that’s been won is confirmation that an independence referendum must be authorised by the British state and a referendum that is critically dependent on the goodwill of the British state which, if it existed, would have obviated the need for a court case.

Apart from the legal issues, and the fact that a court case could be extremely protracted, the Scottish Government taking the British government to court would be a strategic error. As the saying goes, it’s better to ask forgiveness rather than request permission. The Scottish Government should, at all times, act as if it is the democratically legitimate government of Scotland. Because it is! An ‘official’ government wouldn’t seek consent from anyone to hold a referendum. It follows, therefore, that the Scottish Government should act first and be prepared to meet any legal challenge initiated by the British government. In the language of our times, the ‘optics’ are better. The British look like the ones trying to obstruct the democratic process. Which they are!

Which brings us to what I reckon is Nicola Sturgeon’s favoured option – putting things off until the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. The SNP is good at winning elections. Unsurprisingly, I can’t remember how many elections they’ve won. All of them for the past 12 or 13 years, if I recall correctly. It is understandable, therefore, that Nicola Sturgeon would prefer – perhaps relish – the prospect of an electoral test rather than taking the matter out of the political realm and into the courts; perhaps to languish there for many years.

The problem is that Ms Sturgeon has already come close to exhausting the patience of SNP members and Yes activists. There is a serious risk that failure to deliver the not-quite-promised 2020 referendum will dishearten and even alienate the very people the SNP relies on to man their formidable campaign machine.

And what would be the point? From the outside, it might look like a landslide win for the SNP in 2021 would put even more pressure on the British government. Personally, I’m far from convinced that denying a fourth or fifth or sixth mandate is any more difficult for the British political elite than denying the first. If anything, it’ll get easier with practice.

Yet again with this option we come back to the problem that the Union makes Scotland less than a normal nation. The Union makes Scotland subordinate to England-as-Britain in all matters and at all times. The British state could, in principle, respond to the supposed increased pressure, not by acceding to the request for a Section 30 order, but by abolishing the Scottish Parliament. Something British Nationalists are eager to do anyway.

To the British political mind it makes perfect sense that Scotland’s drive to independence should be permanently halted solely on the grounds that it is a threat to the Union. The self-serving circularity of this ‘reasoning’ would trouble them not at at all.

The final option on Ms Duffy’s list is a referendum on having a referendum. A referendum to prove the level of public demand for an independence referendum. To me, this would seem to combine many of the problems of a so-called ‘DIY referendum’ and the difficulties associated with using the 2021 Holyrood elections as a proxy referendum.

I have long argued that, if the First Minister has the right to demand a Section 30 order then she has the right to hold a referendum. Or, to put it another way, if Boris Johnson has no right to refuse a Section 30 order, as the FM and her ministers have claimed, then he has no authority to block a referendum. Similarly, if the British Prime Minister can discount a mandate for a referendum why would he not discount a mandate to hold a referendum on holding a referendum. The proposal comes up against the problem of infinite iteration. A referendum requires a referendum which also requires a referendum and so on forever and ever. Once you start asking permission, you’re never done asking permission because the very act of asking permission acknowledges the other’s right to demand that you ask permission.

My memory may be defective, but my mind is, I think, still reasonably sharp. Certainly sharp enough to recognise that the statement to be made by Nicola Sturgeon next week may be the most important of her political career. All eyes will be on her. Expectations are high. It’s the sort of situation where a politician would like to have room to manoeuvre. The kind of circumstances when a politician realises the value of options. The moment when they may regret having squandered so many.

None of the options listed by Judith Duffy gets the First Minister out of the bind she has created by her commitment to abiding by the rules set by those who don’t want her to have any options at all. We will learn next week whether she has come up with some way out of the Union entanglement, or whether we’ll all be asked to tune in again next week. If we remember.



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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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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.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

There’s a lot of understandable and perfectly justified anger about the BBC Question Time broadcast from Dundee on Thursday 10 March. Even for the BBC, there was some quite remarkably blatant bias on display. Were the preposterously arrogant management of the corporation given to explaining themselves at all, they would surely be struggling to account for the very obvious dearth of local people in the audience. Although the unionist/anti-SNP weighting of the panel was pretty standard.

But what had most people choking on the breakfast cereal of grovelling humility that these days is supposed to supplement our regular diet of haggis, porridge and shortbread, was the appearance of, not one, but TWO relics from British Labour in Scotland’s humiliation at the hands of the Scottish electorate last year. One of these was a nonentity of such profound blandness as to have made no impression on me at all. But the appearance of the other had jaws hitting floors the length and breadth of Scotland.

Kathy Wiles! Remember her? She’s the one whose likening of Scottish school kids to the Hitler Youth proved too distasteful a gobbet of vicious hatemongering even for British Labour in Scotland. And this is a mob that boasts such poisoned tongues as flap in the empty heads of Ian Smart and Blair McDougall!

Even a whiskery old political anorak like myself was taken aback by such effrontery. So much so that, until it was pointed out by others, the supernatural coincidence eluded me of two ‘figures’ from British Labour in Scotland, not only being in the vetted BBC Question Time audience, but also being afforded the opportunity to speak. I was starting to smell a rat even through the powerful fishy odour that always seems to accompany the BBC when it deigns to venture out of its London lair to dip a Dimbleby in the pond of provincial politics.

Aside from all of this – which, after all, is only standard BBC bias taken up a notch – what intrigued me was the thought of the planning meeting – or meetings – that surely preceded this episode of BBC Question Time. For we have to assume that these programmes are planned. Somebody makes decisions about where the show is to be broadcast from and who the panellists will be. Somebody decides who will be in the audience. Somebody decides what questions will be asked. And, however professionally the Dimbleby may pretend to be running the show, somebody is shouting instructions in his ear as he goes round the panel and elicits follow-up points from the floor. Those contributors, if not their specifics of their intervention, also being carefully selected by BBC staff.

In other words, it’s all staged. What we see and hear is, almost without exception,only what the BBC’s production team has decided we should see and hear. They do like the occasional ‘surprise’, to keep things as close to interesting as BBC Question Time can get. But, mostly, it’s all under control.

So, it is no accident when the programme is broadcast from Dundee with little discernible local presence. It is not mere happenstance that two British Labour in Scotland representatives are planted in the audience, primed with comments, and allowed to speak at length. This is all stage-managed. This must have been discussed at production meetings.

Even if the two British Labour in Scotland drones had somehow contrived to both secure invitations, somebody must have noticed that they were on the audience list. Their invitations were positively confirmed. Did nobody ask any questions about this? Are we seriously supposed to believe that it didn’t come up at one of those production meetings?

And, even if we stretch our credulity enough to accept that coincidence (or non-BBC contrivance) was behind their presence, how can we possibly swallow any claim that it was just a fluke that both were called upon to speak? The odds here are vanishing somewhere beyond Camelot territory.

Let’s suppose for a moment that somebody did bring this up at a meeting. Let’s imagine some young intern not yet fully immersed in the arcane ways of the BBC hesitatingly asking if it was really OK to feature two former candidates for one of the British parties currently vying to be the most anti-SNP. How might her seniors have responded? Would they scoff at the notion that anybody might notice the ‘coincidence’? These are, after all, only very minor cogs in some remote part of the British Labour machine. Nobody in London would even recognise Kezia Whatsherface, so why would they know who this pair are?

Or was the argument made that this deliberate skewing of the programme content was justified? Was it that, from the perspective of the British establishment, they were on ‘enemy territory’ and so some preemptive defence was called for? Were the producers prepared to openly admit that they were engineering things to favour the British establishment’s anti-SNP/anti-independence stance? Was the minion told bluntly that they had better be prepared to go along with such manipulation if they hoped to have any kind of future at The Beeb?

Or might it have been more subtle? I don’t have much truck with conspiracy theories. My attitude is that I am highly dubious about those who peddle conspiracy theories; and very suspicious of those who insist there’s no conspiracy. For the most part what, with hindsight, we perceive as conspiracies are simply emergent properties of a situation in which there are a number of people, with enough collective influence, and sufficient commonality of purpose, to bring about an outcome that is more favourable to the group that they represent (by definition invariably the established power group) than any random outcome. Things that look like conspiracies after the event will tend to happen when management fails to effectively manage, allowing control to be incidentally usurped by some informal interest-group.

In the real world, evil villains are as rare as super-heroes.

What I’m saying is that the kind of glaringly obvious bias that we witnessed in this episode of BBC Question Time actually could ‘just happen’. It didn’t have to be planned. It didn’t have to be purposeful. No malign intent was required at all. It’s just that the entire BBC is so much a creature of the British establishment that it must inevitably serve the British establishment’s agenda in all things unless it is otherwise directed by competent managers. It is an integral part of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

There is a tendency, I suspect, within the BBC to suppose that the organisation is somehow ‘naturally’ impartial. That impartiality is defined by what it does. What looks like blatant bias from the outside, from within the British establishment bubble just looks ‘normal’.

The great failure of BBC management is the failure to question such casual assumptions. The failure to challenge the self-sustaining, self-perpetuating, self-righteous, self-justification. The failure to manage.

I could, of course, be wrong about any or all of this. But I’d still like to have been a fly on the wall at that BBC Question Time production meeting.