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.