Changing the game

If Ross and Davidson turn the 2021 Scottish election into a plebiscite on the Union and indyref2, they stand to lose badly. Which will make it very difficult for Boris and Co to refuse a referendum.

This is how we know the Tories are about to play dirty

In the midst of George Kerevan’s otherwise excellent analysis we find the above unsupported assertion. George is far from alone in making this unsupported assertion. It has become a widely accepted, and hence seldom questioned, assumption that a decisive victory for the SNP in the next Holyrood election is essential because this “will make it very difficult for Boris and Co to refuse a referendum”. But I question it!

That a decisive victory for the SNP is absolutely essential is certainly true. And the notion that this will make it difficult – or even impossible – for Boris Johnson to refuse a Section 30 request is a very convenient explanation for those who consider that decisive victory for the SNP an end in itself and those who are strongly committed to the Section 30 process. It will not have escaped your notice that both these categories are populated almost entirely by the SNP leadership and its most loyal servants.

There is another way of explaining why that decisive SNP victory is essential. A way which finds considerably less favour with the party leadership and those most loyal to it. But we’ll come back to that.

First we must examine the claim that the Tories and other British parties losing badly enough in the Scottish Parliament elections might be enough to force Johnson to change his stance on refusing a Section 30 order. We start that examination by asking why. Why would it have this effect? Regardless of what he claims – and what others claim on his behalf – is the reason Boris adamantly refuses permission for a second referendum that there is no demand for it? Because only if that is genuinely the reason might a massive win for the SNP cause him to change his mind.

Who actually believes that British Nationalists are determined to block a second referendum because they feel bound by what they choose to believe is the will of the people? Who actually believes that British Nationalists would not continue to be determined to block a new referendum even if it was demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that the will of the people was to have such a referendum?

Whatever the reason(s) for the British political elite seeking to deny the people of Scotland the exercise of our fundamental and inalienable right of self-determination we can be absolutely certain it has nothing at all to do with what the people of Scotland want. When was that ever a consideration?

So why believe that even the clearest and most undeniable demonstration of popular demand for a new referendum would change anything? It wouldn’t! So that cannot be the reason for a decisive SNP victory being so crucial.

To understand the real reason we need the SNP to win and win big I want to refer you to something said in a comment on my blog and my response. The comment was as follows.

Politicians may delude themselves that they have the power to change history. They don’t. Only the people can do that.

To which I responded –

Sentimental drivel! The people have no power. The people have strength. It is the political class which translates that strength into effective political power. Commonly, they will seek to persuade the people that it was popular power wot won it. All too many will be taken in by the stirring rhetoric. Strip away the deceptive varnish, however, and what you find is that as an all but invariable rule revolutions are initiated by the middle classes – academics, artists, professionals, civil servants and minor politicians – who then enlist the strength of the people.

Were you to find any exception to this rule – a true popular revolution which was successful – then what you would also and absolutely without exception find is that the success of that ‘people’s revolution’ came only after it engaged the same middle classes.

The reason a massive SNP victory in the next Holyrood election is important to us – the people – rather than to the SNP hierarchy is not because it changes anything about Boris Johnson or the British political elite or British Nationalist ideology and the determination to preserve the Union at any cost, but because it changes the SNP. More precisely, it changes the relationship between the party and the people.

We, the people, want and need an unprecedented SNP landslide not because it will stop Boris Johnson denying our right of self-determination but because it will stop the SNP denying it. We want and need that political and constitutional game-changer not because it will force Boris Johnson to grant a Section 30 order but because it will force Nicola Sturgeon to stop asking for it.

We want and need that SNP victory not because it will somehow cause the British political elite to respect Scotland’s people but because it will oblige Nicola Sturgeon to respect us. Not because it will require the British establishment to facilitate the end of the Union but because it will force the SNP to be the lever which prises Scotland from the Union despite the continuing and intensifying anti-democratic efforts of the British state.

We want and need that SNP win because it would represent Scotland’s popular independence movement engaging Scotland’s political class for our purposes as opposed to the political class laying claim to the strength of the popular movement in pursuit of its own agenda.

Neither the British political elite nor the SNP leadership want you to recognise this political reality. Not because they are in league, as I see some fools suggesting, but because there is a coincidence of interests such as happens in the real world. Otherwise we wouldn’t have so many dumb conspiracy theories.

In my response mentioned earlier I went on to observe that,

Perhaps more than anything else what Scotland’s cause needs right now is several heavy doses of hard-headed political realism. Fuck knows we’re not wanting for sentimental drivel.

Here is your first dose of hard-headed political realism. The British state will do whatever it reckons is necessary to preserve the Union. The British political elite will continue to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and subvert Scotland’s democracy regardless of what happens in any election or referendum. That is why Douglas Ross and Ruth Davidson are being placed in the vanguard of the British state’s efforts to quell democratic dissent in its annexed territory.

Ross and Davidson are being put in place precisely and solely because they can be relied upon to follow orders without hesitation, absent any reflection, unimpeded by scruples and unhindered by principles.

There is no route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence which does not require that this aggressive obduracy is confronted with assertive determination.

There is currently no way to channel the strength of Scotland’s popular independence movement and translate that strength into effective political power other than through the SNP. And no time to find or create an alternative way.

There is every reason to assume that the coming Scottish Parliament elections represent our last chance to rescue Scotland from the forces of anti-democratic British Nationalism.

I urge and implore everyone who aspires to more for Scotland than an increasingly subordinate status with a ‘reformed’ Union to heed these words.

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Plane crash

Nicolas Cage is a Hollywood star whose mediocrity as an actor is flattered by his filmography. Con Air is one of those films you can watch repeatedly and still enjoy and 8mm has to be one of the grittiest mainstream movies ever made. In the former, Cage is propped up by an ensemble cast that includes John Malkovich and Steve Buscemi while in the latter all eyes are on Joaquin Phoenix and the late James Gandolfini to the extent that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Cage was even there.

I mention this by way of leading up to another Cage vehicle that came to mind yesterday as news emerged of the internal manoeuvrings within the SNP against Joanna Cherry. The 2009 movie Knowing is an unremarkable if mildly enjoyable thriller made famous by an astoundingly graphic and horrifyingly detailed plane crash sequence. I was reminded of that scene as I watched a gang of hijackers fly the SNP into the ground.

I refer specifically to the decision by the party’s National Executive Committee to change the candidate selection rules in a way that was bound to be perceived as a deliberate – and as it turns out effective – attempt to prevent Joanna Cherry MP from pursuing nomination as the SNP candidate for Edinburgh Central constituency, thus favouring Angus Robertson. A decision that makes sense only to those who are convinced the party exists solely to further their narrow political agenda. A political agenda which has more to do with ham-fisted, heavy-handed and horribly misguided social engineering than progressive social reform. The film that comes to mind when I consider the antics of the ‘woke’ clique is 1977’s The Island of Dr. Moreau based on HG Wells’ prescient tale of genetic manipulation and its catastrophic consequences.

Factionalism will bring down a political party as surely as metal fatigue will bring down an aircraft. Like metal fatigue, it can start with cracks so slight as to be invisible. It will initially be celebrated as ‘diversity’ – with no thought as to whether diversity is any less toxic to a political party than full-blown factionalism.

Factions breed factions. They breed in two ways. For every faction there is at least one counter-faction. And, of course, each faction is likely itself to succumb to factionalism as internal differences become disputes become divisions become disintegration.

Factions become more toxic as they breed. Each new faction contains a more potent distillation of whatever dogma is driving the process. Further factions arise as ‘moderates’ strive to counter the more extreme factions and become themselves more extreme in the process.

Labels proliferate. A whole new lexicon develops as every faction attempts to define itself with ever greater precision and others with ever more prejudice. The more rigidly the faction is defined the less likely it is that individuals will find an accommodation for their own worldview. So they create their own faction. The more pejorative the labels thrown at opponents the wider the gulf between them becomes. Differences that are definitively trivial become major points of contention. Major points of contention become the basis of further division. Factions breed factions.

No political party can survive this. Long before factions become so numerous and differentiated that the party appears to stand for everything and therefore nothing, the public will grow weary of it and look elsewhere for something less incomprehensibly complicated. Something more cohesive. Something with a core. Something like the SNP used to be.

There’a a chicken and egg dilemma here. Is it the pursuit by some inexplicably influential clique of its own agenda which has led to the constitutional issue being sidelined? Or is it that in kicking the constitutional issue so far down the road as to be out of sight Nicola Sturgeon has removed the core around which the party used to cohere? More likely, it is a combination of and interaction between these two processes which is splitting the party asunder?

Can the situation be remedied? Can the fission be halted? What is needed to prevent the SNP becoming fragmented and weak at the very time when we need it to be most effective as a political force?

Actually, it’s quite simple. All the party leader has to do is put the restoration of Scotland’s independence back at the centre of everything the SNP is and everything it does. Restore that common purpose and renewed unity at least becomes a possibility. But this refocusing on the constitutional issue will have to be convincing. It has to involve a solid commitment to a Manifesto for Independence in next year’s Holyrood elections made by a leader the membership trusts.

Whatever way you look at this, Nicola Sturgeon has some very hard questions to answer. In my head, I’m still seeing that plane crash scene from Knowing.

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Know your power

Boris Johnson’s ‘sheer might’ may be the stuff of fantasy. It may, in fact, be “dishonest weakness”. Maybe it does reveal “a fantasising, insecure, bullying Prime Minister, leading a fantasy fuelled, and failing, administration”. But it’s evidently enough. However fantastical may be the “sheer might” of the UK, the Union is clearly sufficient to its purpose.

Mike Russell – or Michael Russell as it seems we must now refer to him – is a politician. One would therefore be forgiven for supposing that he’d be aware that power is relative. What matters in the context of the constitutional issue is not the “sheer might” of the UK in relation to the rest of the world, but the power relationship between the British state and Scotland. From that perspective, the might of the Union is as sheer as it needs to be.

It’s all very well to illuminate the grotesquely asymmetric nature of that power relationship – which Michael Russell does exceedingly well – but what I and I’m sure many others want to know is whether and when the SNP intends to do anything to alter that power relationship so that it ceases to disfavour Scotland to the extent that he so ably describes. He makes a great job of conveying the gross injustice of the Union. But he has nothing to say about the SNP’s plans for rectifying the situation.

Michael Russell’s words are nicely chosen to provoke anger at the democratic iniquity of the Union. But he offers no constructive outlet for that anger. So he should not be surprised if that anger turns inward.

You may have noted that I asked only whether and when the SNP intends to do anything to alter the power relationship between Scotland and the British state. I made no mention of how this might be done. That’s because there really is only one way a power relationship may be re-balanced and that is by bold, assertive action taken by the disadvantaged party.

Power begets power. Power accrues to itself. It would seem that the default tendency of power relationships is to favour established power. Given that established power controls the terms on which power is distributed and exercised it is only to be expected that the rules will be such as to preserve and maintain the arrangement which has allowed established power to become and remain the dominant party. But the relationship is not as fixed and immutable as this suggests. No matter how one-sided, power relationships are still subject to a dynamic.

One of the ways in which established power achieves and maintains dominance is by asserting power on the basis of asserted power. Once a certain form and level of power is accepted, it becomes the foundation for further claims to power. The dynamic would tend always to totalitarianism and stagnation but for the disadvantaged party’s capacity to challenge asserted power by asserting its own power. It may seem that the default tendency of power relationships is to favour established power. In reality, however, the dynamic favours equilibrium within a range of power differential that is liveable for both or all parties.

There is no prevailing power without countervailing power. Because prevailing power gives rise to countervailing power. The potential of countervailing power is always there awaiting agency. We look to the SNP to give agency to the countervailing power which challenges the prevailing power of the British state. The “sheer might” of the British state relative to Scotland is a function of the Union. The obscene imbalance of power is the purpose of the Union. All the power over Scotland asserted by the ruling elites of England-as-Britain derives from the Union. Nothing changes in Scotland’s favour unless and until that power is challenged.

It is not necessary to wonder how the prevailing power of the British state might be challenged because countervailing power is not only born of prevailing power but defined by it. Countervailing power can do no other than take the shape of the space left to it by prevailing power. The exercise of countervailing power is, if not dictated, then certainly constrained by the space in which it can operate. Countervailing power redresses insupportable imbalances by testing the limits of that space. That is what the SNP is supposed to be doing. That is what the SNP is not doing.

What I want to say to Michael Russel and Nicola Sturgeon and all our elected representatives is this. By all means try to increase awareness of the appalling nature and effect of the Union. By all means seek to inspire with visions of a better future liberated from the shackles of an anachronistic and inherently anti-democratic political union. But unless you also show willing to be the agent of Scotland’s countervailing democratic power, what the hell use are you?

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Fissionable material

George Kerevan is an individual for whom I have the utmost respect. So I was immediately engaged when my attention was drawn to his recent article offering an analysis of the competing forces re-shaping both the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the broader independence movement. As one would expect from a man with George’s background his account is erudite, forthright and not a little disturbing. The picture he paints of Scotland’s political establishment is more than somewhat at odds with the Scotland of popular conceit. But then, popular conceit rarely has more than an exaggeratedly socially distanced relationship with reality.

I am not about to critique a George Kerevan essay. I would not be so presumptuous. (Not unless I thought I could get away with it.) But his analysis is nothing if not thought-provoking. So it has provoked some thoughts. Not only in my mind. I I have noted a number of comments on social media and elsewhere which seem to have a common theme of mild shock and sad agreement but with reservations. I know that feeling.

I think it would be fair to say that George Kerevan is ‘of the left’ in terms of his politics. I think of myself more as being ‘on the left’. But, while it would be ridiculous to suggest that he is ideologically hidebound, I reckon he’d allow that socialism is a part of him. Whereas for me it’s something I’m part of. These things aren’t easy to convey. They have a tendency to wriggle away when you try to clothe them in words. (Anyone who has tried to dress a fractious toddler will know what I mean.) If I’ve been clumsy in doing so I hope you’ll bear with me, but I think it important to acknowledge that George and I are coming at this from slightly – perhaps more than slightly – different perspectives.

I am not setting out to contradict or offer a counter-argument. I am not disputing George’s analysis other than in matters of small detail and degree. By my lights, he may overstate things a little here and there. But he’s making a point. And better that than those quests for even-handedness that drain a text of all colour and texture. I merely wish to put down some of my own thoughts on those forces re-shaping both the SNP and the broader independence movement. I’d be delighted if those thoughts were even half as provocative as those offered by George Kerevan.

I blame the left. Which is not to deny all that George says. But I can’t see how analysis of the situation can be complete without acknowledging all the forces in play. And it can hardly be denied that the left is a force in Scottish politics. And not entirely and always a positive force. Being on the left rather than of the left it causes me no pain to state this.

We have to take a starting point. History is a process and nothing that is happening or will happen is ever totally unconnected with what has happened. Besides, there’s already a book that opens with “In the beginning …” and I wouldn’t want to be accused of plagiarism. And you wouldn’t want me running on for 750,000 words. So, I’ll take 2014 and the referendum as my starting point.

As surely everybody knows, the SNP enjoyed a massive influx of new members in the wake of the first independence referendum. This influx was mostly made up of two elements. There were the previously unaligned individuals prompted by events to ‘do something’, even if it was only to join a political party for the first time in their lives. And there was the disaffected former members and/or supporters of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). It would be foolish to imagine this this latter group – almost certainly the largest withing the new intake – did not bring something with them. Something other than their cash and their activism.

It has to be stated that the influx to the SNP from the left of Scotland’s politics had many positive effects. The magnitude and speed of the growth in membership caused the party problems that it is wrestling with to this day. Finding venues with enough capacity may be the least of it. The radicalism of the new intake was not universally welcomed. But in general people were glad of the fresh talent as well as the foot-soldier reinforcements and the subs.

Much of what was true for the SNP was also true of the wider Yes movement. There was a tide of new engagement there as as well. But, not being an organisation, the Yes movement was affected differently by this influx. It was affected less because being less formal it was better able to absorb the newcomers. Being unstructured, it was easier for the new arrivals to fit in – there were more spaces and a greater capacity for creating spaces than can ever be the case with a political party. The SNP was (is) often unfairly compared to the movement. Many seemed to think that if others could do it then why not the party. Attending events, for example. Nicola Sturgeon is slated for not attending Yes rallies, for example. This criticism fails to take due account of the constraints of her office.

There were two things in particular that we might well regret the left bringing with them into the SNP – its aversion to power, and its factionalism. The left tends to fail to achieve the means to implement its programme because the left doesn’t trust anybody who has the power to implement those changes. An over-simplification, perhaps. But a reduction which contains a substantial truth. The left has great difficulty reconciling its policy agenda with the need to entrust that agenda to a government. Government equates with establishment and the forces of reaction. The left seeks to depose established power, but has nothing to put in its place that it doesn’t fear and assume will simply become the new boss, just like the old boss.

In large measure, it is this dilemma which leads to the other abiding characteristic of the left – its self-destructive, self-defeating factionalism. There are other factors involved, of course. Nothing is ever as simple as writing about it makes it seem. There is the tendency for the politics of the left to be more nuanced and, dare I say it, more thoughtful. Socialism is, at base, just social conscience given rein. If I can offer another pregnant simplism, the left seek the common good while the right concerns itself with avoiding the bad. That which is bad is easily defined. The good is intrinsically indefinable. There is a clear set of things that are bad – fear and insecurity being principal among them – but try to list the things that are good and you’ll run out of either words or breath before you have even a comprehensive list.

We could say a great deal about the efficacy or the right’s ‘solutions’. But that is not our concern here. What we are considering is the left’s tendency to fractious factionalism and the effect of this on a party possessed of a unity of purpose which enabled it to survive intact despite episodes of internal turmoil such as would have surely torn another party asunder. The effect has been unfortunately corrosive. The unity of purpose is weakened.

Factions beget factions. Factions beget fractions of factions. Factions lacking the cohesiveness of a common core purpose, should they acquire a critical mass of influence, can trigger runaway fission. The SNP lacked the mechanisms to effectively control this reaction. So the hierarchy has done what hierarchies always do when a storm is brewing. They take to the shelters. They barricade themselves in s defensive cocoon. The erect the barriers of bureaucracy and raise the shields of managerialism. The party apparatus becomes an entity in its own right distinct from the party and isolated from the factionalism which reacts by further fragmentation as frustration increases and with it the rise of those who would exploit this frustration for purposes all but inevitably inimical to that core purpose which some of you may still remember for its now waning power to preserve unity in adversity.

So, here we are. The situation is dire. But not irretrievable. I am persuaded that if we can gain a good enough understanding of the competing forces re-shaping both the Scottish National Party and the broader independence movement then we can bring those forces under control. The key, to my mind, is that core purpose. The factions can’t be stitched back together. If the body of the SNP and the independence movement is to be made whole again it must be by a process of cohering around that core purpose of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

All who aspire to a better Scotland must accept that there is a great wrong that must be righted before any other wrongs can be addressed. The great wrong of the Union. If, as is evident, the contested concept of independence has not been sufficient to maintain the cohesiveness of Scotland’s cause then perhaps the quest to right a great wrong might be a purpose all can unite behind.

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A ‘promising’ proposal

It takes a lot of flawed thinking to believe in the magical powers of these new pop-up list parties and their cunning plans to game the voting system. But that’s OK. Because there are myriad ways for thinking to be flawed. I shall mention just three. Let’s call them.

  • Arithmetic/plan conflation
  • Virtue by association
  • Partial assessment

To illustrate the first of these, let me put a proposition to you. I want every pro-independence voter to give me £100. I plan to accumulate £100,000,000. I then plan on using this to get another £100,000,000. I will then have £200,000,000 which I will use to do whatever each of you considers to be your most favoured amazing and wonderful things.

How many of you immediately reached for the ‘Pay Now’ button? Probably not many. Your first instinct would be to ask questions about the plan. My response is to insist that you look at the arithmetic. Given the number of pro-independence voters it is perfectly feasible to raise £100,000.000 in the way I propose. And look at the amazing and wonderful things! £100,000,000 plus £100,000,000 is £200,000,000. And look at the amazing and wonderful things! The arithmetic checks out. And look at the amazing and wonderful things!

If your thinking isn’t flawed, you recognise that the arithmetic and the plan are quite separate and different things and that the fact the arithmetic works doesn’t mean the plan works. You also recognise that however amazing and wonderful the promise it is worthless if it isn’t connected to the proposal by a viable plan.

The kind of flawed thinking I’ve called virtue by association is the rich vein of human folly which confidence tricksters and political charlatans throughout the ages have sought to mine. The mother lode of mindlessness. Having lent their proposal superficial and spurious credibility by quoting some numbers that add up, the shyster will then produce the promise – an outcome described using an array of constantly repeated glittering generalities. Glittering generalities are words and phrases laden with positive connotations and associations but with no substance or core meaning. Glittering generalities – often combined with plausible science or mathematics – is the language of dishonest politics and dubious marketing.

The idea is that having impressed with the unarguable science (or arithmetic), the snake-oil salesman of instructional fable then dazzles the dupe with a promise that blazes with the light of a million suns so that they fail to notice the absence of any plan linking the proposal to the promise. No mapped path from one to the other.

A marketing phrase which neatly combines the plausible science with the glittering generality is ‘Up to 100% effective!’. This pill is ‘up to 100% effective in relieving pain’. This disinfectant kills ‘up to 100% of known household germs’ (note too the additional qualifiers ‘known’ and ‘household’). This snake-oil is ‘up to 100% effective in curing up to 100% of the ailments listed’.

This tactical voting strategy is ‘up to 100% effective in ensuring more pro-independence MSPs and/or fewer Unionist MSPs!’. And if you have any lingering doubts about the promise, just look at the proposal! Look at the arithmetic! Look at how the arithmetic works! Look at how amazing and wonderful the promise is! Just don’t look for the plan that connects the proposal to the promise. And if you do look for that plan and fail to find it then that is because you fail to understand the arithmetic and/or you don’t value the promised outcome as you would if you were a true believer.

Anyone who has sought to engage with proponents of pop-up list parties will find something eerily familiar in the foregoing.

Partial assessment describes the flawed thinking that the snake-oil salesman (other gender identities are available) is seeking to exploit. What matters to the shyster and the political propagandist alike is not only what the target audience/market/constituency thinks about what’s being sold but what they don’t think about at all. The ‘other stuff’. The stuff that is not covered by either the proposal or the promise. The implications and consequences that flow from the entire package – incomplete as that entire package may be.

Partial assessment involves weighing the proposed solution to a problem – which may or may not be real or as serious as it is made out to be – only against the promise attached to it. It involves excluding all negatives. All the pros and none of the cons. Well! Maybe one very trivial con just for appearances.

The word ‘partial’ is relevant in both its sense of ‘incomplete’ and its sense of ‘favouring’. Never mind the quality! Feel the width! Never mind the risk! Look at the prize! Don’t think about what you stand to lose! Look at what you might win!

Charlatans have descended on Scotland’s politics the way pickpockets descend on tourist hot-spots. Frustration with the SNP attracts power-hungry chancers like blood in the water attracts flesh-hungry sharks. Opportunity breeds exploitation. A fox with a full belly will try to catch and kill anything which is both edible and available. Individuals driven by ambition and factions driven by ideology will scavenge for power wherever it may be found. If sufficiently driven, they will resort to any means to seize the smallest scrap of power. Just as long as it isn’t power of the type or in the measure which brings with it responsibility.

It takes a lot of flawed thinking to believe in the magical powers of these new pop-up list parties and their cunning plans. It takes only a little rational thinking to see though the scam. For Scotland’s sake, make sure rationality wins.

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I am not a pigeon

I am not sure which of my personalities is writing this. I don’t know if it’s the virulently anti-SNP blogger who undermines the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence with incessant vicious attacks on Nicola Sturgeon – as described by Pete Wishart and similarly shallow-minded individuals – or the mindless party loyalist who considers independence to be ‘all about the SNP’ and is a devoted member of the Nicola Sturgeon personality cult as portrayed by various online commentators giving vent to absolute conclusions about who I am on the basis of one uncomprehended Tweet or the title of one unread article or some uninformed third-party account of my opinions and attitudes.

I am, if you believe those total strangers who purport to know my mind better than I do, both unquestioningly loyal to the SNP and implacably opposed to the SNP. I am, by various accounts, simultaneously obsessive in my veneration of Nicola Sturgeon and in my hatred of her. I am at one and the same time someone who is totally committed to the restoration of Scotland’s independence and someone who is determined to obstruct and impede progress towards this worthy goal.

And all of these things are true… partly… sort of. Like most people, I don’t fit easily (or willingly) into any hole designed for a pigeon. I am not a pigeon.

Who I am depends on what you ask me. Ask me how I feel about the SNP and I will reach for words such as disappointed, frustrated, angry, impatient, perplexed, exasperated and more in the same vein. For some, this can mean nothing other than that I am fervently opposed to the SNP. Ask me what I think of the SNP and I will state with the confidence of protracted and thorough consideration that the party is the only source of the effective political power without which no strategy fro restoring Scotland’s independence can possibly succeed and therefore absolutely essential to that process. For some, this can mean only that I am a mindless party loyalist who discounts all other parts of the Yes movement.

Not being a pigeon I can’t comment on a pigeon’s capacity for pragmatism. All I can say is that my own is considerable. I can recognise that a coat is threadbare, torn and dirty while being pragmatic enough to accept that wearing it is better than succumbing to hypothermia. I am certainly pragmatic enough to use that coat in preference to freezing to death if it is merely a little ill-fitting or unfashionable.

Ask me how I feel about Nicola Sturgeon and I will freely admit to being slightly in awe of her. I truly admire her abilities as a politician and insofar as I can discern these from a distance, her qualities as a person. I respect and trust her. Just not totally and implicitly. Ask me what I think of Nicola Sturgeon and I will say that for all her undeniable abilities and qualities she is as prone to misjudgement and folly as any other human being. Or maybe just a wee bit less prone. Perhaps that is part of what makes her a bit special.

Not being a pigeon confined to a hole, I can quite comfortably feel great admiration for Nicola Sturgeon and recognise when she has made a mistake. I don’t hate her for her mistakes. If human error was cause for hatred then there would be more hatred in the world than any one planet might contain. I regret her misjudgements and decline to draw a veil over them other than in circumstances where those misjudgements are trivial enough that they fail to tip the scales when weighed against Scotland’s cause and Scotland’s interests. Where I judge the misjudgements to be serious, I will question and criticise and challenge. Because I am not a pigeon.

I am not extraordinary in any way other than that I may think more deeply and analytically than most people. This is not a boast. It is perfectly possible for these traits to be faults. It is possible to think so deeply about things that one never reaches any kind of conclusion. It is possible to be analytical to the point that it becomes nit-picking. But it is essential to think beyond the shallows of superficial presentation and analyse beyond the facile explanations. It may, for reasons of practicality, be necessary settle upon a conclusion and call a halt to the analysing. But this should always be done reluctantly. It should never be done lightly. It should never leave important questions unasked. It should never be a compromise that you are uncomfortable with.

You should not go easily into a pigeon-hole of your own making. You are not a pigeon.

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Section 30 is a lie!

Another senior SNP figure tries to silence those pointing out that so long as it remains committed to the Section 30 process the party is not offering voters a route to independence. And it is downright dishonest to claim otherwise. That’s right! That’s what I’m saying! Alyn Smith and his ilk are lying to us. And the lies have to be called out.

The truth is that the Section 30 process CANNOT be the democratic route to independence that it pretends to be. That is not its purpose. That is quite contrary to its purpose. Section 30 was slipped into the Scotland Act 1998 to satisfy those in the British establishment who were only prepared to tolerate devolution on the strict condition that the Union was safeguarded. To imagine that there might be a route to independence within a legal and constitutional framework designed for the preservation of the Union is nothing short of idiocy. Almost as idiotic as the claim that “we’ve never been closer to independence”. A line that has been discreetly dropped from Alyn Smith’s rhetoric.

That was a lie of another sort. It was a lie so transparent as to be almost comical. As, in its way, is the only marginally more subtle effort to pin the blame for the party’s failures in relation to the constitutional issue on the public heath emergency. The truth is that the fight to restore Scotland’s independence long since ran onto the rocks of Nicola Sturgeon’s inexplicable devotion to the British state’s “gold standard” in maintaining its grip on our nation at whatever cost to the Scottish people.

I issue this challenge to Alyn Smith or anyone else who continues to insist that we must abide by the Section 30 process. Explain, in step-by-step detail how the Section 30 process can possibly take us from where we are now to a referendum and the restoration of Scotland’s independence, or admit that you have been lying to the party membership and the people of Scotland.

Enough of the lies!

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The fartmills of your mind

People don’t so much fear change as resent it. One of the myriad curiosities of human nature is that we come equipped with this truly remarkable pattern detecting and modelling machine – surely the most complex and powerful device in the known universe – the primary purpose of which is to build models of our environment which allow us to foresee possible changes in that environment, and yet we have this distinct tendency to proceed as if nothing will change. We tend to suppose – or act as if – the way things are is the way they will always be. At some level or in some part of the tangled psychology which informs and instructs our behaviour, we choose to ignore the dynamic four-dimensional model generated by the most powerful predictive algorithms churned by the most powerful computer in the universe and focus instead on that old familiar photograph.

Why do we have this tendency? Perhaps it’s because we suffer from prediction fatigue. Sometimes the dynamic model is just too dynamic for us and we take refuge in a place where things are more static and manageable. Maybe it’s one of those homeostatic feedback systems and the notion of an unchanging environment operates like a governor which prevents the dynamic model running wild. Not a perfect solution. But evolution isn’t working to a plan. Natural selection naturally selects the first thing that works and only tweaks the solution it has settled on if that solution has a statistical tendency to impair our capacity to reproduce relative to some other mutational novelty.

Explaining why we resent rather than fear change may be easier. We resent change because the ‘now’ that we’ve subconsciously chosen to cling to is the baseline for the dynamic models – the maps by which we chart a course through our physical, social and temporal environment. When the baseline changes, the model must be revised. (More precisely the ‘screen grabs’ we’ve taken from the model have to be updated. The model itself is constantly being revised. It is dynamic.) This is effortful. So we resent it. We resent change which requires us to alter our perceptions our preconceptions and/or our plans. Rather a lot of human behaviour can be explained by laziness.

Such indolence has a cost. If we too resolutely adhere to those outdated ‘screen grabs’ from the dynamic model we may be ill-equipped for, and adversely impacted by, such change as may occur. When this happens, we tend to blame the change rather than our own intellectual inertia. Another quirk of human nature. Rarely is it entirely true when an individual insists that they are no part of the problem, the problem is the entire problem. We are all actors in our own lives – even if betimes it seems we are merely bit players, extras and support acts.

It would be deceivingly simplistic to think of this tendency to refer to an unchanging snapshot of our world as absolute. It is just a tendency. That tendency can be strong or weak varying among individuals and over time. We would not survive long if we weren’t keeping an eye on the dynamic display as well as the snapshot. It may reasonably be argued that much and perhaps all human error and folly can be understood in terms of a failure to properly balance the two perceptions.

Scotland’s cause has been serious afflicted by just such a failure to give appropriate weight to the static model which is good enough for immediate and superficial purposes and the dynamic model which is essential to a more long term and profound understanding of the environment. If we are subconsciously selecting a way things are to be our ‘the way things will always be’ it stands to reason that the one selected will tend to be the one which pushes itself forward most forcefully. You might suppose it would most likely be the pleasing snapshot of a sunny reality. In fact, it can just as readily be a disturbing image of a very dark reality. Basically, when things are good, we tend to behave as if they will always be good and when things are bad we tend to be convinced they’ll never get better. Either of these states, if allowed to persist, can result in the kind of behaviour we call a lapse of judgement.

The campaign to restore Scotland’s independence has been beset by lapses of judgement. Which does not make it unusual in any way. It was ever thus.

I pressed for a referendum in September 2018 or no later than September 2018. That date wasn’t picked out of a hat. It was the product of long consideration and analysis as unfettered by assumptions and preconceptions as any individual’s might be absent specialised training. My thinking on the matter was not, for example, shackled to any notion of a ‘right time’. I considered the matter on the basis, not only of what conditions and circumstances would most closely approach some ideal, but on what circumstances were more or less likely to arise and how conditions were more or less likely to develop.

I focused on the dynamic model generated by my brain – or mind.

I do not claim to have foreseen the SNP’s present travails in any precise detail. Nor do I claim to have predicted any aspect of the British government’s frighteningly erratic and irrational behaviour. But I did take account of the ways in which circumstances and conditions could worsen as well as improve over time.

I do not claim to have foreseen the Alex Salmond affair. But I knew with something approaching certainty that something like that would happen. If the British state is determined to dig some dirt on a leading figure in a cause then eventually dirt will be dug. If a party stays in power long enough then it will eventually suffer the effects of internal tensions and external pressures. If a movement survives long enough the energy which drove it will dissipate and it will eventually succumb to factionalism as some try to renew that energy while others seek to scavenge what remains for personal or partisan advantage.

In short, I foresaw that things would start to go all to fuck at some point and knew that it was essential to move forward the fight to restore Scotland’s independence before that happened – regardless of what other circumstances prevailed. Either we got it done by September 2018, or the chances of it getting done started to diminish.

I was not wrong. Nicola Sturgeon got it wrong. I could take a stab at explaining why she got it wrong when she decided to wait in the hope the the British government would by its actions cause people to look more favourably on independence. I could probably find some explanation as to why she failed to appreciate that things could get worse as well as better and that it might be better to act before things got worse.

But I’m depressed enough about it all without delving into the motives and motivations of the players. There is no satisfaction in watching events unfold as you feared they would. There is only despair in fearing things will now unfold in the way you anticipate. There is little comfort in saying, “Ah telt ye!”. That said, I must take what comfort I may. If people had listened to me (and a few others who I don’t presume to speak for) we would not be where we are. We would by now have restored Scotland’s independence and would be congratulating ourselves on having the foresight to move when we did.

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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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March against the Union

With regard to marches, as with everything else, there’s never a lack of naysayers within the Yes movement. It doesn’t seem to matter what you do or propose to do, there are always people who will sniffily insist that you should be doing something else. And, of course, there are always those who take against an action or initiative for reasons they’re reluctant to provide but, being unable to formulate a rational argument, resort to insisting simply that the thing will ‘put off soft No voters’; or ‘play into the hands of the Unionists’. Don’t ask them to explain these claims or supply any supporting evidence. You’ll just confuse them.

Marches are no exception. Every time a march and rally is held you’ll find the usual suspects on social media trying to make those attending feel guilty by saying they should be out leafleting instead. Or manning street stalls. Or whatever. What they should be doing is anything but whatever it is that they are doing.

In fact, there are few if any occasions on which marches interfere with other campaigning activities. That’s because the people organising those activities are not daft. They know the dates of the marches well in advance and organise leafleting runs and street stalls etc. around those dates. It is also the case that, however many people turn out for the marches there are always those who can’t or won’t go and who are therefore available for doing other things. The complaints are nonsense.

Marches and rallies serve a purpose. They serve more than one purpose. They increase the visibility of the Yes movement and help to normalise the idea of independence. They also provide an opportunity for networking. Many worthwhile initiatives have been conceived among activists gathered in pubs and cafes during and after these events. Folk from the borders get to connect with folk from the north. Folk from the cities get to connect with folk from the isles. Folk from furth of Scotland’s borders add their input to this great cauldron of ideas and enthusiasm. All it takes is the spark of an idea and a fresh fire is lit.

That said, I do have issues with these marches and rallies. All too often they lack focus. It can be hard to tell at times if you’re attending a march in support of Scottish independence or a demonstration against the Tories. Or nuclear weapons. Or zero-hour contracts. Or capitalism. Maybe it’s a climate change protest. Or an effort to save whales or trees or…. You get the idea.

What really troubled me about the marches last year was that they continued to direct public ire in the direction of London when it had become more appropriate to direct it towards Edinburgh. They were about sending a message to Westminster when we really needed to be talking to (or shouting at!) Holyrood. They were demanding change in the UK’s governance when the Yes movement is supposed to be about constitutional reform in Scotland. I needed no other reason to abhor the anti-Tory chants and banners than that they totally missed the point.

What was true in the summer of 2019 is even more true now. The government we need to be urging into action is our own – the Scottish Government. The party we should be naming in those chants and on the banners is the SNP. The parliament we should be petitioning is the Scottish Parliament. The rest is irrelevant.

Tories will always be Tories. No march, however huge, will alter them. And they aren’t really the problem. They are only a small part of it. Because it’s not just that Scotland gets Tory governments we voted against. It’s not even that we so rarely get governments in London which sort of reflect how we voted in Scotland. The problem is that we are obliged by the constitutional settlement to accept that we are not entitled to expect always to get the government we vote for. It matters not at all what British party is in power at Westminster, it will have won power on the back of English votes. If the party they choose happens to be the same British party branch we’ve voted for in Scotland we are supposed to be grateful for British democracy. If the party they choose is not the one we have voted for we are supposed to be uncomplaining about British demockracy.

Changing governments in London changes nothing for Scotland. No British government will ever consider Scotland’s interests as a priority. No British government will serve Scotland’s interests other than when doing so serves the interests of the British state. Attempting to address Scotland’s problems by fiddling with the Westminster arithmetic is like imagining you can make rotten food edible by stirring it. Protesting against Tories and Westminster is just futile flailing at the surface. Whatever part of the surface you may be attacking, peel it back and you’ll find the Union.

It is the Union which stipulates that Scotland must always be subordinate and secondary and powerless within the UK. That is what the Union was intended to do. It’s what the Union has always been for. Only by ending the Union can Scotland enjoy true democracy. The Union must deny democracy in order that the Union might persist. The Union must persist in order that democracy can be denied. Democracy must be conditional on whatever serves the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

The Union is the choke-chain around Scotland’s throat. If marches and rallies and other Yes activities aren’t trying to break that chain then, whatever good they may do in some regards, they are doing nothing for the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

I appeal to all of those organising marches and rallies to put their best efforts into persuading participants to protest against the Union. I urge all of those involved to focus their attention and efforts on demanding action by the Scottish Government in the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of breaking the chains that keep Scotland at the mercy of a corrupt and incompetent British political elite.

I ask that all Yes activists support the aims of White Rose Rising (www,

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