Stalled!

This past week or two I’ve been reminding myself why I stopped using Facebook. It’s not the idiots. You can’t avoid them without abandoning social media altogether. It’s not even the fact that Facebook allows the idiots to spout their idiocy at greater length than Twitter. Just as you develop an algorithm in your brain which edits out the advertising from your conscious attention, so a similar ‘brain-switch’ is triggered by the first few words of a comment that the algorithm predicts will be unworthy of your attention. What I’m saying is that, as with all mass media, there’s a knack to being an active consumer. Being an active consumer means being selective as well as being critical. Question everything. But learn to spot the stuff that’s going to have only gibberish for answers.

I dislike Facebook because it has become this huge, clunky, clumsy, creaking machine. It’s like somebody asked Terry Gilliam and Maurits Cornelis Escher to collaborate on designing a social media platform. My laptop hates it! It’s a brand new machine and definitely not low-spec. But after ten minutes or so on Facebook it starts wheezing like it’s using Capstan Full Strength to treat a bad case of emphysema. Facebook turns site navigation into a mystery tour. At any given time, a haphazard selection of buttons function like the ‘Random article’ link on Wikipedia. The difference being that on Wikipedia you’ve a fairly good chance of landing on something interesting. On Facebook it’s vastly more likely you’ll encounter material with what we might euphemistically refer to as ‘niche appeal’. A detailed account of somebody’s gran’s verruca treatment complete with pictures may be gripping stuff for the odd deviant imagination but it’s quite jarring when you think you’ve clicked a link to a post about the Dutch tulip industry.

Facebook torments me. But it has its compensations. One thing I like is the way some comment can trigger a train of thought or the memory of something I’ve been meaning to write about. That happened recently when I read a remark about the SNP trying to appeal to ‘new moderates’ in an effort to increase support for independence. This immediately brought to mind some thoughts i’d had on this very matter but had not, as far as I could recall, turned into to pixel-dust and committed to the care of the cloud fairies. I’ve copied and pasted my response, expanded it a bit and tidied up some stuff.

The trouble is, the SNP is not appealing to any new moderates. Because there are no new moderates. All the moderates are already included in the 50% Yes share polls are showing. The appeal needs to be to another category or categories of voters altogether. A more emotional appeal. A more aggressive appeal. Voters have hearts as well as heads. And there is no law or rule that says voters cannot be guided by their hearts as much as their heads.

We need a campaign that addresses people’s sense of injustice. We need a message that sparks anger. Not rage! Anger! Righteous anger.

We need the other bit of the campaign. The bit that was missing from the 2014 campaign because it was effectively prohibited. The negative to go with the positive. Simply campaigning for independence will not work. Or, to put it another way, campaigning for independence has done its work. It has won as many votes as it can. We need to unleash the other side of the campaign. The artillery barrage. The anti-Union campaign.

I can explain – have explained – why a campaign restricted to campaigning for independence can only do so much. Nobody listened. The SNP leadership still won’t listen. Independence cannot be the sole focus of an effective political campaign because it is a disputed concept. A binary political campaign – as in a referendum – must have a tangible, deliverable offering. The thing that everybody in the campaign agrees on as the end to be achieved. The thing that people actually vote for. Independence cannot serve that function because there is no possibility of general agreement among campaigners or voters about what independence means.

Independence always and for everybody means ending the Union. Dissolving it. Breaking it. However you want to put it. The Union is the target.

There’s an analogy which might help explain why a continuing campaign of “gentle persuasion” is a wasted effort. And it is, self-evidently, futile. The polls have barely moved in circumstances that should be ideal. Topping 50% is great for headlines in The National. But it’s less of a cause for celebration when you recognise that Yes should be at 60% and rising. In the context of Scotland’s independence campaign, 50% and barely twitching is evidence of failure.

It’s the law of diminishing returns. I used to do stock and production control in a big manufacturing plant producing perishable goods. There was a lot of what we called ‘variance’. That is to say, the stock we had was at variance to the stock we should have. Around 10% of production was being lost. All production all of the time. I introduced measures which brought that down to just over 1%. I continued to make improvements designed to prevent the variance rising. But I didn’t go chasing the 1%. Because it would have been too costly. Finding that 1% would have involved compromising production and labour relations. It just wasn’t worth it.

Some think that because their strategy of selling independence using “gentle persuasion” worked in the 2014 referendum – although not well enough – that all they need to do is persist with the same method. That assumes that votes over and above the ones already won are as easy to get as the ones already won. They are not! They are much more difficult to get. And they are not susceptible to “gentle persuasion”. We know that because that’s what the polls tell us. What little swing there has been to Yes can more than be accounted for by demographic changes and other factors. The “gentle persuasion” strategy has done nothing since 2014!

Let me put it another way. The “gentle persuasion” devotees imagine the campaign in a linear way. They think of it like a walk between to places marked on a map. If you’re at 10% you just have to keep walking in your sensible shoes and you’ll get to 20%. Walk a bit further and you’ll reach 30%. And so on. But a map is two-dimensional and deceptive. In reality, the journey begins as a stroll along a level, even path but at some point the path becomes broken and rocky and you find you should be wearing proper walking shoes. The path gets rougher and steeper until you can make no progress without full mountaineering kit and the skill to use it.

Now imagine you have a bungee cord tied round your waist and tied off way back at 0%. That is the reality of a political campaign. At every stage, you need the right tools and techniques. As you progress the difficulty of gaining ground increases on an exponential curve – until you can go no further.

What we will see – what we are seeing already – is a stubborn determination to hold to the “gentle persuasion” strategy which, as it struggles to have some impact, starts to make increasingly expensive compromises. If “gentle persuasion” isn’t selling this brand of independence and “gentle persuasion” is the only technique we’re allowed to use, then we are forced to adapt the ‘product’ we’re trying to sell until it appeals to a new market. Until it is saleable using our sole technique. And it’s not only the form of independence that will be ‘modified’ downward to find this new market. It will be everything associated with the project to restore Scotland’s independence. If it is thought that the process is what puts people off, then the least scary process must be selected.

But what happens when there is no process that is both reassuring to the apprehensive and viable? What happens if the only process that will work sounds a bit scary even if the fears are groundless?

That’s where we are at the moment. A strategy has been adopted which can’t make progress because those in charge refuse to use the tools and techniques which are required. They keep telling us the strategy is working fine. They keep telling us we’re getting closer. They keep telling us that bungee cord holding us back is about to break. And some believe it. Some have their eyes so firmly fixed on the destination that they can’t see the ground beneath them. They can’t tell that they’re not moving. Yet!



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Talking to toasters

An actual smart toaster. Click for article. Opens in new window/tab.

We are, in my opinion, closer to achieving the goal of Independence than we have ever been…

BtL comment on The National

Really? Closer than we were when the polls opened on Thursday 18 September 2014? Really?

My advice would be to leave the inane, vacuous platitudes to the politicians. They are well paid for making themselves appear almost as clever as street furniture.

After that, I have to wonder if there is any point in explaining the folly of the rest of your comment. Ach! I’ll give it a go!

You say support for independence is growing by the day. I have seen evidence of no such steady growth. Being a realist, what I see is polls which show an occasional upward blip, but rarely if ever beyond margin of error territory. I see polls which are at least ten points below where we might reasonably expect them to be given the very circumstances which you go on to describe.

The way you talk about it you’d think “biggest recruiting sergeant we have ever had” was a new phenomenon. But the fact is we’ve had such a Tory government for the whole of the period since the first independence referendum. When do you anticipate this recruiting effect becoming evident?

You say, “Our job in the Movement is to encourage those who are on the cusp of joining us to make that last step onto our boat.”

Do you think it helps that this boat is very plainly set on a disastrously wrong course? Do you think it helps if the larger part of the crew are so preoccupied with shouting down and shutting up those who point out the catastrophic navigation error they give the impression of being content that the boat should run onto the rocks? Do you think it helps that you’re asking people to hop aboard a doomed ship and, furthermore, to undertake NEVER to question the captain’s orders even as they hear the hull splinter beneath them on the reef?

You say we should “let the Tories and others make the mistakes”. What mistakes would those be? With my realist specs on what I see is that Boris Johnson has got, or looks set to get, everything he wanted. What have we got that wasn’t imposed on us by Boris and his gang while our government did… what? Sat back and assured us it was all good because it would drive up support for independence. Except that it hasn’t. I know why. You never will. Because you would never even consider the possibility that Nicola Sturgeon might have got it wrong despite overwhelming evidence that she has done precisely that.

What evidence? The fact that neither a new referendum nor independence is in prospect. There is probably no more deluded claim in politics right now than the imbecilic assertion that we are closer to independence than ever. And I’m including UK AND American politics in that statement!

Finally, you state that “the demand for Independence will be unstoppable”. How? When? Where is the substance to this assertion? What prevents it from being anything more than a totally empty assertion?

It seems that you have failed to notice a couple (at least!) of highly pertinent facts. Firstly, the Section 30 process cannot work without the willing and honest cooperation of the British political elite. And that cooperation is NOT going to be forthcoming on any timescale other than the geological. The assertion that Boris Johnson can’t keep on saying No is rendered ludicrous by the fact that it costs him not even an insignificant effort to say No every twenty minutes for the remainder of his time in office. At which point, the next British Prime minister takes over the effortless task of denying Scotland’s right of self-determination. So! Another empty assertion!

Secondly, Nicola Sturgeon has committed Scotland to the Section 30 process just referred to. Committed! No possibility of any change of approach. No response to concerns expressed about this approach – other than the big SHUT UP to which you seem to want to add your voice. Not even any discussion of an alternative course of action. Not Allowed!

Here’s the thing! I never publish anything that I’m not prepared to defend. If I make a statement or take a position or whatever, I will stand by it. I will argue my case. I will happily – nay eagerly! – listen to counter-arguments. For what better way to prove the worth of my position than to have it vigorously challenged. I welcome such challenges.

But I am confronted at every turn by people who make grandiose claims about Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ while flatly refusing to defend those claims against even the mildest of scrutiny. I am constantly condemned and castigated for daring to question this strategy. But, to date, nobody – not one single person – has even attempted to explain how this ‘strategy’ can possibly take us to a new referendum and independence BEFORE the mountains melt in the sun. Or before the British state closes down all potential democratic routes to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

Instead, I am offered intellect-insulting claptrap about independence never having been closer and told to stop rocking the boat – the one that’s drifting onto the rocks anyway, making a bit of rocking a rather trivial matter.

In my more despairing moments – which are many – I idly wonder whether it is more than happenstance that the depressing decline in the standard of discourse within the Yes movement has coincided with a period of rapid expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT). I find myself unable to discount the possibility that in some of my social media exchanges I might actually be interacting, all unawares, with a ‘smart’ kitchen appliance.



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Ignorant and offensive

David McEwan Hill disparages “keyboard warriors” in dumb disregard for the fact that many independence campaigners have mobility issues which, at the very least, limit their ability to participate in other activities. By being so obnoxiously offensive to these people – including myself – he also displays a profound ignorance of the importance of online campaigning in what I feel obliged to remind him is the 21st century.

An intelligent person would be aware of the significance of online campaigning. An intelligent person probably would not thoughtlessly belittle the contribution made by others to a campaign he claims to be concerned about. Which makes it all the more hypocritical of David McEwan Hill when he casts his bitter aspersions on the intelligence of those who express concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue.

He complains that those “keyboard warriors” he despises so much express their concerns about the First Minister’s total and unconditional commitment to the Section 30 process while not offering a “different route or different policy will carry us to our goal”. (By which I take it he means the restoration of Scotland’s independence.) An intelligent person would have done a bit of research first in order to confirm that no alternative had been described and that this wasn’t a claim founded on nothing more than his blinkered prejudice against “keyboard warriors”.

An intelligent person would have stopped to reflect before launching such an ill-informed and ill-thought rant, and might then have realised how much more important it is to demonstrate that the strategy actually being followed might be effective than to insist on alternatives without even asking the meaningful questions about the adopted strategy.

An intelligent person would have asked those questions. An intelligent person would have been very disturbed by what they discovered. An intelligent person would then have asked proponents of this adopted strategy to explain how it might work. They would be disappointed. Because for all people such as myself have been asking for this explanation for many months; and although the number of people expressing the same concerns as myself is now growing exponentially, no explanation has been forthcoming.

Finally, there’s David McEwan Hill’s evident desire to control the Yes movement and dictate the terms of debate around the constitutional question. An intelligent person probably wouldn’t be so vacuously presumptuous.

For someone who supposes himself to have the benefit of superior intelligence, David McEwan Hill has managed to author a diatribe which makes normal intelligence seem a rather ambitious claim.



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A small awakening?

Yet more evidence of growing concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue. George Kay’s words will resonate with a very significant proportion of SNP members and with a great many people in the wider independence movement.

Unfortunately, the conclusion reached in the debate facilitated by Inchkeith branch of the SNP doesn’t go far enough. Why are we talking about a “Consultative Referendum”? Why would we seek to confirm a mandate which we know already exists? And if the British government can deny the mandates already afforded Nicola Sturgeon’s administration why would anybody imaging they’d accept the outcome of this referendum?

George Kay of the branch told The National: “The following is the conclusion agreed at the debate – it was felt that the present position by the SNP leadership in the drive to securing a second independence referendum needs to be bolder and have a strategy which is clear both to the UK Government and to all supporters of independence.

Everybody needs to get it through their heads that no British Prime Minister will EVER permit anything which puts the Union in jeopardy. The Union is just too essential to the British state’s conceit of itself – never mind its bankrupt economy.

They got a fright in 2014. No British Prime Minister will ever be allowed to take that risk again. They will NEVER undertake to recognise a vote to restore Scotland’s independence. They will NEVER cooperate with any process which could lead to the dissolution of the Union. Which matters because the Section 30 process committed to by Nicola Sturgeon is entirely and absolutely dependent on that cooperation.

Worse! it is dependent on willing and honest cooperation. Even if there was some way that Boris Johnson could be forced to grant a Section 30 order (THERE ISN’T!) he would only do so knowing that the process could very easily be sabotaged.

Have that “Consultative Referendum”! But don’t act all shocked and outraged when the British establishment simply disregards it in the same way that they contemptuously ignored Scotland’s Remain vote in 2016.

Get this through your heads before it’s too late! If Scotland’s independence is to be restored then it will ONLY by a process entirely made and managed in Scotland by Scotland’s elected representatives. It will ONLY happen by a process which excludes Westminster. It will ONLY happen DESPITE the fervent opposition of the British state and DESPITE them deploying their entire arsenal of dirty tricks.

There is no route to independence within the legal and constitutional framework formulated – purposefully or incidentally – for the preservation of the Union.

There is no route to independence that does not involve direct and acrimonious confrontation with the British political elite.

Any plan or strategy which fails to take account of these fundamental facts is doomed to fail. WAKE UP!



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Misidentifying the problem

The problem is not that “the First Minister ‘never had a Plan B’ for indyref2” but that she never had a viable Plan A. But if the obviously infeasible and now dismally failed Section 30 process was her Plan A and Kenny MacAskill wants her to try for a “consultative referendum” followed by an unspecified “Plan B” should this too fail, then surely the “consultative referendum” would then be her “Plan B” making Kenny’s unspecified “Plan B” the First Minister’s “Plan C”. I think we all know where it goes after that. How soon, I wonder, before they exhaust the alphabet. Surely not before we run out of patience.

The great mystery… Correction! ONE of the great mysteries is why the SNP is in this position in the first place. The party has existed, with the same primary purpose, for more than 80 years. Nobody could reasonably have expected them to plan ahead that far. But the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999. The SNP has been strongly represented at Holyrood since then. The party has been in government for 13 years. We had an independence referendum five years ago. You’d think at some point during all this somebody would have sat down and gamed all credible future scenarios. For the SNP to be lost for a workable plan at this stage is unbelievable and unforgivable.

This lack of a plan is even more inexplicable when one considers how few options there are. The people who put their faith in Nicola Sturgeon having some ‘Great Secret Plan’ that will be unveiled at the dramatically critical moment are putting their faith in magic. For such a plan to exist there would have to be options which nobody else is aware of. Options that only she has been able to figure out. Or she would have to magic these options into existence. The latter is, counter-intuitively, the more likely. A great many people have been looking at Scotland’s predicament, including a great many very clever people. None of them has identified a single mystery option such as would be an essential ingredient of a ‘Great Secret Plan’. There is no ‘Great Secret Plan’!

Distressing as it may be, we better all get used to the fact that what we see is all there is. And what we see is a seriously intractable situation. The kind of situation that isn’t resolved by political nous alone. The kind of political situation that calls for imagination and nerve. We all know how clever Nicola Sturgeon is. But clever won’t cut it in this instance. It doesn’t matter how politically adroit she may be, or how much knowledge of the law she can draw on if she can’t do bold, decisive and assertive. When none of the things you’d be expected to do will work, all that’s left is to do the unexpected. And do it with as much flair and brass neck as you can muster.

Forget Plans B through Z! If Plan A is to abide strictly by the British state’s rules and Plan A won’t work then it’s foolish to suppose that anything else will work that also abides strictly by the same rules. And that includes everything that has so far been suggested by anyone in a position to influence the First Minister; if such a person even exists. It’s not an alphabet’s worth of plans we need it is a single course of action that will drive the independence campaign through the maze that defeats even the smartest of politicians. Because that’s what it was designed to do.

Defiance! Not compliance! We’ve done reasonable. It’s time to do unreasonable. We’ve tried to find a key to unlock the shackles of the Union. It’s time to recognise that there is no key. The key was thrown away 307 years ago. There is no get-out clause in the Union. That’s as it was intended to be. Scotland didn’t join a political union. Scotland was annexed. It is ludicrous to expect that, in the act of annexation, the annexing power would create a provision by which the annexed territory might reverse the annexation. Nicola Sturgeon is relying on a provision that doesn’t exist.

The question is not, how do we get independence. The question is how do we end the annexation. No wonder there isn’t a plan! They don’t even know what they’re planning for! No wonder they have no relevant answers! They’re asking the wrong questions! No wonder they aren’t able to find a solution! They haven’t identified the problem!

The problem is not that the First Minister never had a Plan B. The problem is that she is not planning for the situation that actually exists.



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Briefly…

Sometimes there’s an advantage in being the underdog. But there’s a difference between underdog and cowed cur. If you’re seeking sympathy, it may help your case to appear to be at a disadvantage or even victimised and bullied. But there’s a point at which sympathy shades into pity and pity into contempt. Turning the other cheek may afford you the moral high ground, ensuring that everybody gets a good view of you having your face slapped. Inviting a display of contempt can be a clever political tactic if your point is to have everyone know that your opponent is inclined to contemptuousness. But once everyone is aware of how despicable your opponent is your continued determination to be spat upon begins to look perverse.

What I’m trying to say is, we get the point, Nicola! You really don’t want to know what I’m trying very hard not to say!

This has to stop. Preferably before people start to conclude that the contempt is deserved. Behaving as if you expect respectful dialogue with the British government just gives the impression of stupidity once the British government has demonstrated beyond all possible doubt that neither respect nor meaningful dialogue will ever be forthcoming. The pathetically pleading hanger-on is not a good look for someone purporting to be a political leader. Stop it!



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Going down gracefully

There is no vacancy. There is no appetite within the SNP for a leadership contest. Discounting hard-line Unionists, there is little if any demand in the country for a different First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon has proved herself to be a competent and very popular party leader. It is hard to imagine anyone might be a better ambassador for Scotland in Europe and across the world. At home, she has shown herself to be highly proficient at handling the media and adept at explaining, promoting and defending her government’s policies and positions. All round, Nicola Sturgeon scores nines and tens across the board. Yet she may have to go. She may have to step aside due to a problem of her own making.

Angus MacNeil identifies the problem. When Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy for pursuing independence “hit the brick wall” she has nowhere to turn. She is so wedded to the Section 30 process that she has effectively ruled out all other options. She has no Plan B because she hasn’t left space for an alternative approach to the constitutional issue. An issue of such crucial importance to the party and the nation that failure in this area must outweigh all those high scores in other aspects of her roles as party leader and First Minister. It is in her third role as de facto leader of the independence movement that her performance has disappointed many – and continues to cause frustration and not a little anger among those who are otherwise totally supportive of Nicola Sturgeon.

What Angus doesn’t say; what he could hardly be expected to say, is that Section 30 process has already hit a brick wall. It was always going to do so. Any process which is crucially dependent on the honest and willing cooperation of the UK Government is bound to fail. And it has. Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy for getting independence is, in fact, part of the British political elite’s strategy for preserving the Union. The Section 30 process maintains the illusion of a democratic route to independence while keeping the British state firmly in charge of access to that route.

Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy has not only hit a brick wall but a brick wall at the end of a very narrow bind alley. There is no room to turn because the British state has erected an impenetrable barrier to progress. Thre is no room to turn because the walls on either side are hemming her in. She can hardly complain since she helped build those walls. She has no choice but to go into reverse. And she won’t want to do that.

Going into reverse would mean abandon the Section 30 process altogether. Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to that process is so dogmatic that she has effectively staked her career on it. Politically, a U-turn on her approach to the constitutional issue would be an admission of failure such as might end a political career.

Apart from a handful of thoughtless individuals, nobody in the Yes movement is calling for Nicola Sturgeon’s head. But increasing numbers are demanding a change of approach to the constitutional issue. A clamour is growing for the Section 30 process to be ditched. It is certain that, if the project to restore Scotland’s independence is to proceed it must be by some route other than that to which Nicola Sturgeon has committed. She cannot unmake that commitment. She can’t reverse back to the blind alley’s entrance and drive off in another direction. The damage has been done. She did it. Relying on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British establishment was a mistake. A massive mistake.

With no ill-will whatever, and regardless of the protestations of her friends and allies, it looks very much as if Nicola Sturgeon will have to go. The only thing that might make this unnecessary – for the time being, at least – would be if Boris Johnson were to oblige her with a Section 30 order. This would not end the problem for Nicola Sturgeon, however. Grant of permission to hold a referendum would not demolish that brick wall. It would merely knock a hole in it just big enough for Nicola Sturgeon to crawl through. The wall will be rebuilt behind her and the apparently open and clear democratic route to independence will turn out to be littered with traps and landmines making it every bit as impassable as it had previously been.

What chance is there of the British Prime Minister relenting? How likely is it that he would act to save Nicola Sturgeon’s neck? How remote is the possibility that Boris Johnson would be allowed to initiate a process which puts the Union in jeopardy absent an absolute guarantee that the process could be blocked further down the way?

It is this, and not difficulties over any of her policies or ‘scandal’ involving her predecessor, that will force Nicola Sturgeon to quit. She might do the U-turn and hope she can ride out the ensuing storm. But the best option to secure her future career and preserve her political heritage, not to mention keeping her reputation and dignity relatively intact, is to step aside with dignity in order that the independence campaign can move forward.



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