It’s the waiting…

I see Pete “The Postponer” Wishart has issued his call to inaction again. All across Scotland his battle-cry echoes, “Once more unto the waiting room, dear friends, once more!”. Apparently, the fight to restore Scotland’s independence must wait while Pete trains a troupe of line-dancing ducks. As rationalisations for indefinite delay go, this has the advantage of novelty. But it is otherwise less than persuasive. Don’t get me wrong! I wish Pete well in his duck-choreographing efforts and I’ll probably watch the YouTube video when he finally manages to get them all in a row; but I may not be alone in holding to the opinion that of all the things that Scotland needs right now, performing farmyard fowl comes pretty low on the list. Just above a second spike of coronavirus infections.

I am curious, however. I’d like to know what he means by “another dead end”. In the title of his latest paean to procrastination he asks ‘PLAN B. PANACEA OR ANOTHER DEAD END?’. What might be the first “dead end” implied by the question? What else could it be but PLAN A? So we must assume, as no other candidate plans are mentioned. Is this Pete Wishart acknowledging that the Section 30 process is a “dead end”? Or is it just more evidence that he talks – and types – faster than he thinks. Never mind the meaning! Look at the cleverness!

Why ask if ‘Plan B’ might be a panacea anyway? Has anybody claimed that it might have the power to cure all ills? Come to that, has anybody claimed that it might be the “solution to all our indy woes”? Or that it could “break the constitutional stand off and get us swiftly and easily to independence”? Who has described ‘Plan B’ in such terms? When? Where?

Don’t ask Pete! (No! Seriously! Don’t ask him. He doesn’t like being asked questions about anything he’s said or written. He gets very upset if people don’t simply accept his pronouncements as gospel. Don’t you know who he is?) It seems he doesn’t know either. Having just told us what he insists people have said it is, he poses the question, “But what exactly is plan B?”. Call me picky, but should he not have asked that question first? Should he not have told his readers what was about to get the benefit of his disparagement? Did he not just give the impression that he knew what ‘Plan B’ was? Or at least enough to know what it was described as? Confused? Just wait! (To coin a phrase.)

Pete Wishart then tells us that “no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is”. But we know that’s not true. And so does he. Because he goes on to refer to and describe the proposal that Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil had developed in sufficient detail to be put to conference – and be met with boos from the audience and behaviour from the party bosses that was hardly less reprehensible. Having said that ‘Plan B’ had never been explained Pete Wishart then goes on to explain ‘Plan B’ in the very terms of the explanation he says has never been given. Aye! I know!

To confuse matters further, Wishart then makes some fairly good points about the proposal he says he’s unfamiliar with because “no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is”. Don’t ask me how that’s possible. More importantly, don’t ask him. Anything. Ever. He doesn’t like it.

I have always been supportive of Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil not because I agree with their proposal or think it a workable idea but because they at least want to have a discussion about the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue, while Pete Wishart and others want only to close that discussion down. Wishart says he proposes to “ask a few gentle but searching questions” about ‘Plan B’. We might wonder how he proposes to do that when he says he has no way of knowing exactly what ‘Plan B’ is. We might also wonder why, if it is considered essential that “gentle but probing questions” are asked of a proposal that’s more caricatured than described, similar questioning of ‘Plan A’ is strictly prohibited.

As my regular readers will both be aware, I have been asking searching and latterly non-too-gentle questions about the Section 30 process for years. Just as I have been asking probing questions about Pete Wishart’s notion of an ‘optimal time’ to act on the independence issue. I have had no answers on either matter.

The strategy will be familiar to those who paid attention during the 2014 referendum campaign. The approach taken by the SNP and the Yes movement then was that we had to ‘make the case for independence’. Having put the onus on ourselves, the anti-independence campaign immediately and predictably set about demanding answers to questions asked only because asking them suggested doubt. As any sensible person would have anticipated, the questions were endless and the answers never sufficient even if they were acknowledged as having been given.

Meanwhile, there was no questioning of the Union. The entire campaign proceeded – with the full concurrence of the SNP and the bulk of the Yes movement – on the promise that the UK is unquestionably satisfactory and independence has to be proved a worthy and workable alternative. But no proof could ever be enough. No test could ever be passed. The case for independence can never be made to the satisfaction of the British establishment. And the SNP insist that the British establishment must be the ultimate arbiter.

Pete Wishart insists that “the SNP will enter the next Holyrood election with a route map to secure our nation’s independence”. Why, then, will he not explain that “route map” at least as well as he wants ‘Plan B’ explained? If he is so confident that the SNP’s approach is the right one and that it is winning, why the refusal to set out the steps in the process? He says the SNP has a “route map”. But there are only two points on this so-called route map. The destination – independence – and a starting point which is wherever he needs it to be in order to make that destination seem reachable. A route map, as the term suggests, portrays a route. It lays out all the critical points which must be passed through in order to reach the destination. Nobody in the SNP leadership or the second tier that Wishart occupies is able (or willing) to tell us what any of those critical points are, far less how we get by them.

He dismisses ‘Plan B’ as impossible because the British state can and will just say no and we must accept that refusal because to do otherwise would give them further grounds for saying no.

Isn’t that the very definition of the Section 30 process?

One thing Pete Wishart says caught my attention for reasons other than its evident ridiculousness.

There are only two ways to pursue independence, one is with the participation of the UK state, the other is through a unilateral declaration. 

He almost gets it here. Quite unwittingly, I’m sure, Pete Wishart comes tantalisingly close to pinning an essential idea. It may well be true to say that there are only two ways to pursue independence. But then he succumbs to his inability to question his own assumptions and preconceptions. That he accepts the ‘right’ of the UK state to participate in the process is symptomatic of a colonised mind. That he finds anathema the very idea of Scotland being proactive and assertive speaks of a mind that has fallen prey to British propaganda portrayal of Scotland as ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!”.

If there are only two ways to pursue independence then one – the one favoured by Pete Wishart and those above him in the SNP hierarchy – is not merely with the “participation” of the UK state, but with the full, honest and willing cooperation of the British state. That is what the Section 30 process requires.

The other way is for Scotland to take responsibility for itself and its own future. To reject the Section 30 process as a constitutional trap laid by the British state and recognise that the only process by which we can successfully pursue the restoration of our independence is a process which we create for ourselves.

One other thing is worth remarking on. When I visited Pete Wishart’s blog there were several comments on it. Not one of them favourable. Many of them highly critical. This is a marked change from a year or so ago, when he could confidently anticipate a sympathetic audience for his brand or timorous complacency trying to pass itself off as political nous. A tide is turning. Given that Wishart dutifully parrots the party line, might we hope that he will notice the rising waters threatening to sweep him away along with all the other worshippers at the altar of the ‘Gold Standard’. Might he recognise that party members, Yes activists and voters will not much longer tolerate the SNP leadership’s obdurate adherence to a process that simply cannot move Scotland’s cause forward.

Maybe. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Take a number. Mr Wishart will show you to the waiting room.

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As things stand, Scotland falls

I realise Shona is trying to smile through the pain here. Using humour to cork her bottled anger. But I’m obliged to take her to task for a particular comment. She writes,

Perhaps Johnson imagines the MP for Orkney and Shetland is in fact in favour of bypassing the referendum process and going for UDI?

I can’t let that one slip by. It just isn’t the case that UDI means “bypassing the referendum”. UDI – or more precisely and to avoid just such confusion – Scottish UDI is simply another route to a referendum. An alternative to the Section 30 process which is so greatly admired by both our First Minister and any British Nationalist you might care to mention. The Section 30 process that Nicola Sturgeon refers to as the “gold standard”. She’s almost correct. The Section 30 is the BRITISH gold standard. That’s why it’s in the Act of the British parliament which serves to justify the withholding of powers which rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament.

Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 is a constitutional catch-all in case anybody found a loophole elsewhere in the legislation by which Scotland might challenge the Union. It’s there to give the British Prime Minister authority to strip even more powers from the Scottish Parliament. It’s there as the British state’s safeguard against the Scottish Parliament becoming troublesome. It’s there to reassure those who thought devolution would put their precious Union in jeopardy.

It’s there to maintain the pretence of a democratic route out of the Union within the legal and constitutional framework of the British state. It’s actual purpose is to allow the British Prime Minister an effective veto over the right of self-determination which, according to international laws and conventions, cannot be denied or constrained.

Failing an outright veto, the Section 30 process (NOT the legislation but the established process) affords the British state a role in Scotland’s exercise of the right of self-determination such as is deprecated by international laws and conventions. A role which can all too readily be used to sabotage the entire exercise.

It’s easy to see why the Section 30 process might earn the “gold standard” accolade from those who are determined to formalise the 313-years of annexation by having Scotland subsumed into a ‘Greater England’ called Britain. It’s not so easy to see why the Section 30 process is so favoured by the de facto figurehead in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Not easy at all. Impossible, in fact.

A thought occurs. Nicola Sturgeon is reputed to be a smart lawyer. Given the true nature of the Section 30 process, I’m prepared to venture a small wager that had she been involved in the negotiations she would have fought tooth and nail to have Section 30 removed. Now, she all but signs a pledge to it in her own blood. Section 30 hasn’t changed. What has?

Maybe it’s the weight of the irony that’s getting me down. Or maybe it’s reading comments from within the Yes movement which help to feed and amplify and propagate the British Nationalist / Nicola Sturgeon line that Scotland pursuing withdrawal in the more normal way would be “illegal and unconstitutional”.

The Section 30 process will not work as a route to independence. That is not its purpose. That would be totally contrary to its purpose. It follows, therefore, that there must be an alternative process. A process entirely made and managed in Scotland under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and other of Scotland’s democratic institutions – even if those institutions have to be created.

It is this alternative process – actually the ‘default’ process to the extent that there is such a thing – which is referred to as #ScottishUDI. At the very heart of that process lies a referendum. Far from #ScottishUDI bypassing or foregoing or excluding a referendum, it is entirely built around the principle of popular sovereignty. It is NOT as liars on both sides of the constitutional divide maintain, a means of preventing the people of Scotland from having the final say. #ScottishUDI is the only way the people of Scotland will have their say.

Section 30 is all about denying and curtailing democracy. #ScottishUDI is all about enabling and facilitating democracy.

It hardly matters. As we move into the end-game of the constitutional battle, the process of locking our ancient and once-proud nation into a Union which defines Scotland as an integral part and mere region of an indivisible and indissoluble British state, is considerable in advance of any moves towards independence. Which is inevitable because there are no moves towards independence. Nicola Sturgeon remains immovably wedded to the Section 30 process. Unless and until she and her party and her government explicitly vacate and renounce their absolute commitment to that process there can be no moves towards independence.

It appears that the lady is not for turning.

Things can change. As I’m sure someone will point out under the illusion that uttering such banalities makes them seem wise. But, as things stand, Nicola Sturgeon is not going to be persuaded from the folly of committing to a process which is critically dependent on the full, willing, unstinting and honest cooperation of the very people most determined to ensure that Scotland never regains her self-respect never mind her independence.

Those people are winning.

To prevent the British Nationalist juggernaut crushing Scotland out of existence, the Section 30 process must go! Or Nicola Sturgeon must go! But only if she is replaced by someone who is prepared to face up to the reality of Scotland’s predicament.

That is not going to happen.

It’s not going to happen because there is nothing and nobody to make it happen. The only possibility of ‘persuading’ Nicola Sturgeon to abandon the Section 30 process was a unified Yes movement. And there’s as much chance of that as there is of Nicola Sturgeon unilaterally declaring Scotland independent.

As things stand, Scotland falls.

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A cancerous thing

That “the current constitutional arrangements are what got us in this degree of peril in the first place” is not “an alternative view” as Ruth Wishart suggests in The National today, It is the main view. The true perspective. The fist explanation for which we should reach when commenting on yet another instance or example of the British government’s casually calculated contempt for Scotland. The “current constitutional arrangements” – by which one must assume Ruth Wishart means the Union – are not a subsidiary explanation for Scotland’s subsidiary status in the UK as evidenced by the entire Brexit fiasco. They are the explanation for every one of the daily slights, snubs, rebuffs, insults, traducements, calumniations, defamations and denigrations which characterise the British political elite’s treatment of Scotland in all things and at all times.

Only the detail changes. Always, the Union is to be found underlying and underpinning this abusive relationship. For it is the Union which defines this relationship. That relationship having been defined as it has for more than three centuries, it can hardly be surprising if British politicians perceive Scotland accordingly and treat Scotland appropriately according to that perception. Abusive relationships are self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. Abuse is normalised to the point where it’s just use. It’s just the way things are. It is the natural order.

Thus, we get the ‘casual’ aspect of that “casually calculated contempt” as so sickeningly demonstrated by Michael Gove in the tweet which provoked Ruth Wishart’s justified anger. Cutting Scotland (and the other devolved administrations) out of every stage and facet of the Brexit process may seem to us like deliberate, purposeful, considered action. But it is not. Or, at least, not necessarily. Rather, the attitude which informs this behaviour is an inevitable product of the Union. So, the behaviour itself may be seen as such also. The Union is both the cause of and the reason for the abusive relationship.

Politics is the set of processes by which social animals regulate and manage relationships of power. The politics can be crude. Establishing the parameters of a power relationship may be achieved by an overwhelming display of brutish aggression. Or the relationship may be manipulated by more subtle means. When politics works, the power relationship finds a state of dynamic stability. Always changing. Forever shifting. But consistently functional. The social system is not disrupted. Nobody dies.

Politics can fail. The processes by which relationships of power can fail. They can break down in various ways. Commonly, the processes by which power relationships are maintained in a functional state will fail due to one or more of the parties to a relationship being deficient in the required skills. But normal politics can also be prevented from working by some intervention. By the insertion or intrusion into the relations of some device. Marriage is such a device. It imposes a contractual arrangement on the relationship which interferes with or circumvents the normal politics. Things that usually would be negotiated – even if unconsciously – are now not because the contract imposes conditions. Solutions that might otherwise be found are not because the contract precludes them. A functional equilibrium is not arrived at.

Absent the usual regulatory mechanisms the power relationship may tend to tip erratically one way or another. Or it may settle into a state of stable imbalance. The balance of power may tip – or be tipped – so far to one side that it doesn’t rebound. That is what the Union did. It tipped the balance in England’s favour and kept it there by preventing the normal operation of politics. Only by removing the Union can there be a return to normal politics. Only once the Union is ended can the imbalance be rectified.

But the imbalance suits some people. It advantages certain individuals and social groups relative to others within the same community. It stands to reason, therefore, that those people will seek to maintain the imbalance which so favours them. It makes perfect sense that those who benefit from the Union should wish to preserve it. The benefit need not be great. It may even be illusory. But people will generally fight to maintain whatever advantage they have. There is a powerful survival instinct at work.

Hence, the ‘calculated’ aspect of that “casually calculated contempt”. England-as-Britain treats its periphery with a contempt which is casual because the superiority / inferiority is a given – the ‘natural order’; and because maintaining this imbalance is essential to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which serve the political, social and economic elites of the British state – at excessive cost to those who must pay in diverse ways to fuel the very system which disadvantages them. The contempt in Gove’s snubbing of the Scottish Government merely reflects the reality with which he is content. The timing and manner of the snub is calculated to reinforce the basis for that contempt.

So it is, and so it shall remain until the Union is ended. Abusive relationships do not heal themselves. Formalised asymmetries of power do not spontaneously regain equilibrium. Grotesque constitutional anomalies do not rectify themselves. Just as the intervention of the Union suppressed Scotland’s normal political functioning, so a drastic intervention is required in order to restore that functioning.

Independence is normal. It is not normal that a nation such as Scotland should be purposefully and maliciously denied its rightful constitutional status. It is not normal that the people of Scotland should be denied the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty that is theirs by absolute right. It is not normal that Scotland should be forcefully prevented from freely negotiating the terms on which it associates with other nations. Brexit merely exemplifies the abnormality. Section 30 is but one product of the abnormality. Devolution perpetuates the abnormality. But none of these things is the abnormality.

The Union is the abnormality. It is the cancer that depletes and diminishes us. It defines and embodies the “current constitutional arrangements” which imperil Scotland.

Ruth Wishart is right. We cannot and must not be distracted from or deceived about what it is that constitutes the threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions, social contract, economic infrastructure and very identity as a nation. To be distracted from or deceived about the fact that it is the Union which is the threat will inevitably mean failure to find the appropriate solution. That solution – the only solution – is to cut out the cancer. We must end the Union. And we must do so with all haste. For bad as Brexit is, worse is yet to come.

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A reluctant revolutionary?

There’s something missing from Lesley Riddoch’s column in The National. As I read all the de rigeur boilerplate about how dreadful the Tories are and how intolerable it is that voters in England will continue to elect them despite how awful Boris Johnson is and despite the Dominic Cummings scandal on top of all the other scandals now eclipsed by the Dominic Cummings scandal and how the British Tories in Scotland have been forced to say something critical of their masters in London that they’ve only been allowed to say because their masters in London don’t give a toss about what the British Tories in Scotland say because voters in England will continue to elect them anyway and how untenable and insupportable it is that Scotland should have a Tory government imposed by English voters and how all of this is going to conspire to make independence happen because Nicola Sturgeon has performed better than any other politician on the catwalk of daily public health crisis briefings and… nothing!

Where there should be some mention of what WE actually DO to make independence happen, there’s nothing. Where we might expect a few words about how the Scottish Government might respond to all of the foregoing in a way that helps convert glaring constitutional injustice into major constitutional reform, there’s nothing. Were we might have anticipated some wise advice from Lesley on what the SNP could actually do to exploit the ineptitude and corruption of the British political elite to the benefit of Scotland’s cause, there’s nothing.

Where we might have hoped for a rousing message of encouragement and incitement to the Yes movement urging us on with a call to some kind of action, there’s nothing.

Anybody reading this column could be forgiven for thing Lesley Riddoch genuinely believes that independence is going to fall in our laps while we sit and watch a bunch of political, social and economic vandals shake the edifice of the British state to destruction. Those of us who are better acquainted with Lesley’s politics and spirit will know that this is not so. But the impression given is undeniable.

To be fair, she may have reached her word limit before she got around to mentioning Scotland’s role in restoring Scotland’s independence. But Lesley is a professional writer. She is one of depressingly few journalists in Scotland for whom the term ‘journalist’ is not used in a pejorative sense. She is perfectly capable of editing out enough of the oft-repeated charge sheet against the government of England-as-Britain to make space for a paragraph or two on how the people of Scotland might be involved in the process or restoring our nation’s rightful constitutional status. We can only conclude that the absence of any such material is a matter of personal choice rather than an error of journalistic judgement.

But why would she do that? Why would Lesley Riddoch leave out what some would argue is the most important part of the equation? Why would she risk leaving the impression that she was naive enough to imagine independence would come about, not as a result of the choices and actions of Scotland’s people, but as a consequence of the British political elite’s failures?

Perhaps because she knows what must be done but is reluctant to spell it out for fear of the inevitable backlash from the hyper-cautious elements of the independence movement. Maybe Lesley Riddoch has joined the growing number of people who are recognising that only bold, decisive, assertive action will get Scotland’s independence restored. It’s possible she’s just not yet ready to come out of the closet and declare for #ScottishUDI.

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Acting the fool

Anybody who is trying to use the immediate challenges we face in tackling this virus, or to twist what I say in relation to some of these issues to make any kind of pre-existing, political or constitutional point, will not find me willing to play ball. Rigorous scrutiny of the decisions @scotgov is taking is both appropriate and essential – but simply trying to shoehorn these issues into our pre-existing political debates and positions doesn’t help tackle the virus.

Nicola Sturgeon

Is Nicola Sturgeon really so naive as to suppose that a public health crisis can be completely divorced from politics? Or that political and constitutional points can be mutually irrelevant? I rather doubt it. I suspect she is well aware that there is no aspect of life which is not intimately and irrevocable bound up with politics. And that there is no part of politics that does not impinge on some aspect of life. It is unimaginable that she could fail to recognise that, just as politics permeates our lives, so the constitution overarches and enfolds all of our politics.

Nicola Sturgeon is an astute and highly experienced politician. As a political operator, she is undoubtedly outshone by her predecessor. But that leaves her plenty of scope for putting into practice whatever tricks she may have picked up. As the former, she will know full well that absolutely everything in life is political. As I wrote in an article for iScot Magazine,

It’s not that politics intrudes on all of life. All of life is politics. We are all ‘doing politics’ all the time. Human society is a matrix of power relationships. All human interactions, at every level from the interpersonal through the familial and the communal to the international, are transactions conducted in the currency of power and mediated by a process which is the same throughout, even if we are accustomed to calling it ‘politics’ only when we get to the more collective levels of social organisation.

Politics is personal

Nicola Sturgeon knows this. Of that we can be fully confident. She could not have achieved what she has were she in any confusion about the true nature of politics. As a political operator, however, she may be motivated to pretend that she is as naive as described above. The expediencies of various situations may prompt her to speak and act as if she actually supposes politicians can and should be can be apolitical in the midst of a public health crisis. Sometimes, the pretence of credulousness can be disturbingly convincing. As in when she thought to put the constitutional issue on hold for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. She really seemed to believe that this was both possible and wise. Let’s hope it was all an act.

The pretending – or role-playing – is but a device for attacking opponents. By acting as if the constitution has nothing to do with politics and politics nothing to do with a public health crisis she can condemn and hopefully silence those who are foolish enough to provide her with ammunition. Yes, Carlaw! We’re talking about you!

Because Nicola Sturgeon pretends doesn’t mean that we have to. Democracy works better the more people are educated about how it works and informed about how it is working. We are better citizens for developing our understanding of the ways of politics and awareness of the facts and arguments around political issues. Better citizens make a better society. The public heath crisis must be political because dealing with it necessitates political choices. Managing the response involves political decisions. By which I don’t just mean choices and decisions made by politicians but choices and decisions informed in significant measure by plainly political considerations.

And what is the constitution about if not the question of who makes political decisions; how political decisions are made, and what political considerations are legitimate. The matter of closing the border is only one instance of political decision-making. It may seem trivial to some if they fail to recognise that it stands as metonym for all political decision-making. Debate about where ultimate power lies or should lie in relation to closing the border is a proxy for debate about where ultimate power lies in all matters. It represents and illustrates the dichotomy between those who maintain that the exclusive source of legitimate political authority – such as the authority to close the nation’s borders – derives from a divinely-ordained monarch (or the descendants thereof) and those who adhere to the fundamental democratic principle that the only source of legitimate political authority is the people.

The current crisis is a public policy concern. Managing the response brings into play relationships of power. It is political. It is constitutional. It cannot be otherwise. Nicola Sturgeon knows this. And so should we.

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