Off the fence

I have stayed out of the sex/gender debate which is causing ructions and ruptures within the SNP. I have steered clear of it for a number of reasons. The debate itself may fairly be described as ‘toxic’. With two camps firmly entrenched and lobbing gas grenades at one another the last place you want to be is in no-man’s-land, where you’re likely to find yourself engulfed by a poisonous cloud whichever way the wind blows. I have something of a reputation for a decidedly ‘robust’ debating style. I am no more averse to undermining the character and credibility of an opponent than were the great orators of ancient Athens. But there is always a point to my insults. They are, I hope, measured. Calculated to serve a substantial argument. The sex/gender debate appears to consist of little else but profound unpleasantness entirely for its own sake.

Another reason for shunning what I shall continue to call a debate solely for want of a better term, is that I prefer to try and focus on the constitutional question. I regard this as, by far, the most important issue in Scotland’s politics at this time. Inevitably so given that there is no aspect of public policy which lies outwith the scope of constitutional politics.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t understand the sex/gender debate. Not that I don’t understand the issue. But that I don’t understand why it is an issue. Or, at least, why it is so much of an issue that those who become involved in discussing it tend to be instantly stripped of all decency, decorum and dignity. That sex/gender is non-binary is, to my mind, quite uncontroversial. I long ago realised that both both biologically determined sex and socially defined gender are points, or bands, on a spectrum – or, better still, areas in a matrix – which may be more or less sharply delineated and which may – within limits – shift over time.

Regarding sex/gender thus, it becomes easy to accept as part of a broader normality sexual orientations and gender roles which cannot be accommodated by a concept of normality derived from the idea of sex/gender as binary. Normality itself is not binary. Instead of thinking in terms of an oppositional normal and abnormal, we relate better to reality by thinking in terms of many different normals. Instead of two exclusive categories, we have a richer and more satisfying single inclusive category.

There is still abnormality in the sense of the pathological. But this relates to sexual behaviour rather than the matter of where a person is placed – or where they place themselves – in the maleness/femaleness matrix. It may well be argued that, in terms or sex/gender identity, the only abnormality is the claim to be entirely one or the other. We can only sensibly talk about certain traits and characteristics being dominant. We are, each and every one of us, a mix of male and female. For the most part, we are predominately one or the other. But it is almost certainly impossible to be all male or all female. Nature just doesn’t work that way.

Given all of this, it stands to reason that an enlightened society will recognise the individual’s right to have some say in defining their sex/gender. It may even be maintained that this is a human right as well as a civil right. What it cannot be, however, is an absolute right. There are practical considerations. And where there are practical considerations there has to be compromise.

The large, complex societies in which the vast majority of are embedded, and on which we all depend, simply would not be feasible were we unable or unwilling to compromise. Democracy itself is just such a compromise. Each of us is a sovereign individual with free will. We choose to compromise by pooling part of our individual sovereignty so that society as a whole can function. Look, and you will find such compromises everywhere; in your own life and those of others. You will also see people who are reluctant to compromise. Or who refuse to do so. Or who do so inadequately. Adolescence is a period when human beings tend to struggle with these compromises. Some people struggle with them all their lives.

Treating sex/gender as if it was binary is one of those compromises. There are contexts in which it is necessary to draw a dividing line between the ‘two sexes’ simply so as to make the day-to-day functioning of society possible. There are elements of society’s institutions and infrastructure which cannot accommodate every part of the sex/gender matrix. Resource limitations prohibit it. It is not possible to have separate toilet facilities for every single one of the sex/gender orientations which can exist ‘in nature’, far less all those which may be conceived of and adopted by individuals constrained only by the scope of their imagination. Our towns and cities would be toilets in more than a metaphorical sense.

Obviously, I exaggerate in order to make the point that compromise is necessary. Even in relation to something as essential as one’s sex/gender identity, there must be a trade-off between being true to oneself and enjoying the benefits of modern society.

The good news is that the contexts in which such compromises must be made have been greatly reduced over the years. The extent, severity and rigidity of the compromise has also lessened with ongoing social reform. The institution of marriage being a good example of a context which has ceased to demand that sex/gender be treated as binary. Marriage now accommodates more forms of normality than it did only a few years ago.

Things change. Mostly, they change quite slowly. Although it would be more true to say that they change at a human pace. A pace suited to society as whole rather than the preferences of individuals. Perhaps it’s maturity that allows me to accept with equanimity the fact that some things don’t change as much or as quick or in the way that I want. Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older. Mainly, I think, it’s because I have come to understand the processes involved in social evolution. Processes which are broadly analogous to biological evolution. The fittest reforms survive. Where fitness refers to the best fit with what already exists. Change which is a poor fit tends not to survive.

It’s a homeostatic process. Albeit a less than perfectly efficient one. (Something else that society has in common with organisms.) There are forces driving change. There are forces resisting change. Ideally, this results in a compromise which suits nobody particularly well, but which works acceptably well for everybody – as in society as a whole. Otherwise, escalating conflict reduces the space available for compromise. Which is what seems to have happened in the case of the sex/gender issue.

The greatest enemy of compromise is dogmatic absolutism. There are always groups in society made up of people who have succumbed to this particular form of human folly. Groups characterised by the conviction that they have discovered ‘The One True Way!’. Just such a group has coalesced around the idea that there should be absolutely no contexts in which sex/gender may be treated as if it were binary. This, regardless of society’s capacity to accommodate every single form of normal. Regardless of the practicalities. Regardless of the consequences. No compromise!

In case you hadn’t noticed, that was me coming down off the fence firmly on the side of those who regard this manifestation of dogmatic absolutism as an assault on women’s rights. I am persuaded that, while it may be no part of the intention, massively eroding or entirely eradicating the contexts in which the compromise of a binary concept of sex/gender is acceptable will adversely affect those for whose benefit this compromise was settled on. I am convinced that it is a maladaptive reform. It’s a seriously bad fit with society as it exists. It is impractical.

I do not condemn those who advocate strongly for this reform. As already noted, society needs movements which push the envelope, or they stagnate. But their demands are objectively unreasonable. And, as so often happens with such absolutist cliques, unreasonable has morphed into unreasoning. It is one thing to have the courage and strength of one’s convictions. It is quite another to be convinced that the righteousness of a cause transcends the obligation to adhere to appropriate standards of conduct.

It is now beyond question that there are elements within the SNP, and/or close to the leadership, prepared to stoop to quite appalling behaviour in pursuit of their ‘radical’ political agenda. People are being hounded out of their earned positions and from the party on trumped-up allegations of anti-Semitism. There is a viciousness to the assaults on dissenting figures which is deeply troubling. A calculated, sulphurous intensity which I can well imagine might frighten some. And for every one that is successfully driven out by this onslaught, many more are intimidated and deterred from speaking out. Which, of course, is the intention.

I am not easily intimidated. I will not be deterred. I find I must speak out.

I simply do not comprehend how such corrosive factionalism has been permitted to exist and thrive within the party with which I have been happy to associate myself for 57 years. The malign intolerance being exhibited and the despicable manner in which it operates seems totally alien. It has no place in any political party. And if it is not excised promptly and thoroughly people are likely to conclude that there is no place in the party for them.

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The dictates of conscience

Most SNP members will, I think, know what George Kay means when he refers to a “darker group”. When the existence and activities of this “darker group” are taken together with what many people – myself included – consider to be the highly dubious nature of the allegations against Neale Hanvey this whole affair begins to look far from as clear-cut as Nicola Sturgeon suggests.

The Neale Hanvey affair raises a number of issues – all of them controversial. These include matters relating to the SNP’s internal disciplinary procedures; the activities of pressure groups within or close to the party; broader questions of loyalty and trust; and, of course, the issue of freedom of expression and the limits imposed on it.

All of these issues must be set aside for the time being. Important as they are, they must not be allowed to distract from the most immediate and pressing task – maximising both the number of pro-independence MPs and the SNP vote. This should be the only consideration for pro-democracy voters in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency.

Being realistic, however, we have to accept that people can hardly help but be influenced to some extent by recent events. Nobody can tell them who to vote for. But any political party is entitled to expect that its members will support and campaign for the official candidate. They are certainly entitled to have rules against party members supporting and campaigning for candidates other than the official one. You’ll notice that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t suggest SNP activists go to work for the Scottish Greens candidate. The rules apply to the party leader the same as to everyone else.

Asking SNP members to direct their efforts to helping official party candidates in neighbouring constituencies seems reasonable enough. Until we consider what these elections are really supposed to be about. The fundamental purpose is to elect the individual considered by the largest number of voters in a constituency to be the best person to represent the constituency’s inhabitants at Westminster. Elections have become all about parties and leaders. Which isn’t an entirely bad thing. Political parties are, after all, the means by which citizens exercise collective power in the sphere of public policy. And party leaders have a very important role to play, as Nicola Sturgeon is so amply demonstrating. But that fundamental purpose remains. We vote for candidates to represent our community as well as for parties to represent our ideology or political aims.

Campaigning for official candidates in neighbouring constituencies satisfies the latter, but not the former. It’s a question of how much weight we afford each of these purposes. Personally, I would not be uncomfortable with the idea of campaigning for candidates elsewhere. We do that in by-elections anyway. What would trouble me is not campaigning for a local representative. That seems like forsaking an important democratic responsibility.

Ultimately, we all vote according to the dictates of our conscience. We each must decide our own priorities. Voters in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath simply have more to consider than most of us. For some, it will be easy. The party has declared Neale Hanvey persona non grata. Nicola Sturgeon herself has pronounced him guilty of making anti-Semitic comments despite the fact that he denies holding such views and without any kind of hearing that I am aware of. For some party members, that will be enough.

But what if, having interrogated your conscience, you still believe Neale Hanvey is the best person to represent you and your community in the British parliament? What if you have serious doubts about his guilt? What if you have reason to suspect he has been maliciously targeted by some “darker group”? What if you believe in due process and the presumption of innocence? What if you have a well developed sense of fairness?

I don’t live in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency. I don’t know Neale Hanvey. It’s not for me to judge whether he might be the best MP for that community. But, having pondered the other issues, I cannot in good conscience do other than agree with George Kay. There is something not right about this whole affair. And Neale Hanvey deserves the benefit of any doubt.

Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the way accusations of various forms of bigotry are used by assorted cliques as bludgeons to silence those who challenge their political agenda. As offensive as anti-Semitism, racism, sexism etc. undoubtedly are, what amounts to heavy-handed political censorship, intimidation and repression cannot be any more acceptable. A stand must be taken against those who would maliciously exploit our revulsion at such bigotry to incite baseless hatred every bit as vile as that directed at various minorities by the abysmally ignorant.

I disagree with George Kay on one point. I definitely have a problem with the SNP taking the action it did. I consider that, having vetted and selected Neale Hanvey, the party owed him a measure of loyalty. Other than that, I have looked to my conscience and I too have come to the conclusion that, regardless of what the personal consequences might be and for whatever it may be worth, I am obliged to give my support to Neale Hanvey.

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A poll worth heeding

There are a couple of things worth noting about the YouGov poll which suggests a Conservative win with a substantial majority. The first is that it is very likely to be accurate. This because voting intentions in England, where UK general elections are decided, are based very substantially on Brexit. These voting intentions are fixed. They are unlikely to change because nothing about Brexit is going to change. Or, at least, nothing is going to change soon enough or dramatically enough to have any impact on voting intentions. Nothing is happening with the Brexit process. Not that is visible to the public, antway. And none of the parties are going to change their stance on the Brexit issue during an election campaign.

It is significant, too, that none of the 68 Tory MPs giving Boris Johnson a working majority is likely to be a ‘rebel’, They wouldn’t have been selected as candidates if they were not as committed to taking the UK out of the EU at any cost as their leader.

The second thing to note is that, as is commonly the case, Scotland cannot affect the outcome of this UK general election. The most Scottish voters might hope to do is slightly reduce the Tory majority. They can only do that by voting for their SNP candidate. As has been true for many years now, there is absolutely no point in voting for British Labour in Scotland. I dislike the expression “wasted vote”. As far as I am concerned, participation in the democratic process is always worthwhile. But a vote for British Labour in Scotland is certainly futile if the intention – or the hope – is to influence the outcome at UK level.

In Scotland, British Labour is irrelevant and the Conservative Party is anathema.

We have to think, calmly and rationally about what is the best outcome for Scotland in the coming election. A good case can be made for a British Labour minority government supported by a substantial SNP presence at Westminster. But we have no way of bringing about that outcome. Or even of contributing to it in any effective way. Whatever British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) may tell you, there is simply no possibility of them enjoying a miraculous resurgence. And, even if that miracle were to happen, the election would still be decided in England.

The best outcome that is actually achievable is a massive win for the SNP. A win on a scale that shakes the British establishment. A win so big it cannot be ignored.

What does Scotland gain from returning upwards of 50 SNP MPs? We know that the SNP provides the most vigorous opposition to the Tories at Westminster. Even if this opposition cannot have much actual effect because of the way the odds are stacked against them – both numerically and procedurally – it is SNP MPs who speak, not just for Scotland, but for democracy, decency and political sanity. It is SNP MPs who ask the awkward questions. It is SNP MPs who defend our NHS and other essential public services. It is SNP MPs who truly hold the Tory government to account in a way that only those with very long memories will recall British Labour doing.

No British government is ever going to facilitate or cooperate with any process which puts their ‘precious’ Union in jeopardy. That includes the Section 30 process to which the First Minister is so inexplicably committed. In terms of Scotland’s cause we must therefore consider what might best serve that cause when the time comes to seek the restoration of Scotland’s independence with the consent of the Scottish people but absent the involvement of the British state. Unquestionably, Scotland’s cause is best served by maximising demonstrable support for the SNP – the only party which is unconditionally and unequivocally committed to independence.

That commitment to independence necessarily entails so much more. It entails a commitment to protecting Scotland’s democracy; to defending the Scottish Parliament; to preserving our ability to develop a distinctive political culture informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It entails dedication to maintaining our essential public services, such as NHS Scotland, and defending them against predation by corporate hyenas.

Even if you are not yet persuaded that Scotland’s interests can only be secured by ending the Union with England-as-Britain, a vote for the SNP is much more than a vote for independence. It is, first and foremost, a vote for al the positive things mentioned above. But it is also a vote against the chaos and corruption of British politics. It is a vote against a system which imposes Tory governments on Scotland regardless of how we vote – along with all their socially corrosive and economically destructive policies.

It is a vote against a political system which so favours a corrupt and incompetent elite as to allow Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister. It is a vote against a system intent on maintaining established power, privilege and patronage while actively excluding the worthy and the talented.

It is a vote against an archaic and grotesquely asymmetric political union which denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of our sovereignty. It is a vote against everything that England-as-Britain has become and will become as its decline into ugly right-wing nationalism continues.

The YouGov poll has to be taken seriously. We must anticipate Boris Johnson continuing as British Prime Minister, but armed with a solid majority in the British parliament and emboldened by his victory. A Boris Johnson made all the more dangerous by being afforded almost unfettered power. A Boris Johnson determined to earn that most ominous of epithets – strong leader.

Behind this gleeful, gloating, malignant child-clown, a British government intent on locking Scotland into the Union and dragging us along on its wildly erratic journey into the political, diplomatic and economic unknown – leaving behind it a wasteland of public services in which the poor and the powerless must survive however they may.

The only thing which can function as a buffer between this and Scotland is a strong, determined and assertive SNP government in Scotland supported by a massive SNP presence in the British parliament. It may be that we have the former. On Thursday 12 December we must ensure that we have the latter. For Scotland’s sake, we must all vote SNP.

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The labours of Sisyphus

I rarely watch the politics programmes on TV these days. Not out of apathy, but because listening to the likes of Andrew Neil for half an hour is a lot of effort for very little reward. I know that if anything interesting is said in the small gaps between Neil’s interruptions then I’ll find out about through social media. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the hardy souls possessed of greater tolerance for self-regard and pomposity than myself for sitting through these programmes and presenting what amounts to edited highlights on Twitter.

The edition of Politics Live that I want to discuss came to my attention, not via Twitter as is customary, but by way of a letter in The National. In his letter, Andrew Grant recounts a contribution to the discussion of a new independence referendum from historian and right-wing commentator, Simon Heffer.

Heffer stated that most people in England would agree that the British state had made a hash of Irish independence and that if there was a desire for a second independence referendum then “we” might agree to the Scots having another opportunity to determine their own future. But he claimed the issues of currency and EU membership were ignored in the first campaign and that “we” had a duty to Scotland as part of UK.

Heffer concluded by saying yes, let’s grant a second referendum, but only on condition that the Scots demonstrate first how Scotland will fund independence and “make a proper case that they can govern themselves responsibly afterwards”. The other panel members nodded wisely. Coburn let it pass since they were anxious to plug Heffer’s latest book.

The letter’s author was, as you might expect, offended by Heffer’s “pompous condescension”. Assuming Mr Grant’s account is accurate – and I have no reason to doubt it – then we have a few remarks which perfectly reflect the innate elitism, vaunting entitlement and presumptuous arrogance of British Nationalist ideology. Heffer simply takes as a given the superiority of the British ruling class. The concomitant inferiority of Scotland and its people is assumed to be the ‘natural order’. Were the tables turned and Heffer was asked to “make a proper case” that the British political elite were more fit to govern Scotland responsibly than the people who actually live here, the suggestion would surely be met with incomprehension followed by outrage followed by patronising amusement.

I confess that I was as irked by Heffer’s comments as Mr Grant. I was also dumbfounded by the total lack of self-awareness and empathy which was required even to think such thoughts far less give voice to them in a public forum. There can be no doubt that the attitudes of a past imperial age still pervade the very blood and bones of the British ruling classes. How dare he speak of Scotland in such a casually contemptuous manner? How dare he insist that Scotland must “pass some arbitrary tests” set and marked by the British establishment before we may hope to exercise our democratic right of self-determination?

Well, perhaps he dares because we have encouraged him. Perhaps he dares because we have at least made it easy for the likes of Heffer to think and speak as they do. Perhaps he dares because we have appeared, not only to accept the terms Heffer would impose, but to concur with his assessment of Scotland’s inferior status.

How often have we been told by SNP politicians and other leading figures in the Yes movement that we must “make the case for independence”? This has been the constant mantra of the Yes movement from its inception. Our purpose, according to those who presumed to define and direct it, has never been to challenge the attitudes expressed by Heffer and his ilk or dispute the ‘natural order’ that he describes or question the asserted right to examine and pronounce upon Scotland’s fitness to be a nation like any other. Our purpose, rather, has been to concede that right; accept that ‘natural order’; and embrace – or at least pander to – those attitudes.

The Heffers of the British establishment tell us we must “make a proper case” that we have the capacity to govern ourselves responsibly, and our response has been to scurry off and set about trying to make that “proper case”. Throughout the 2014 referendum campaign and since we have been urged on to ever greater efforts to pass the British state’s test of our fitness to have our rightful constitutional status restored. By all accounts, should there actually be another referendum, we will be told we must continue striving to demonstrate our ability to meet whatever standards the British political elite sets and satisfy every condition that they impose. Our task is, not merely to “make the case for independence”, but to make a case that will be accepted by the British establishment.

It is a task which bears comparison with the labours of Sisyphus. Legend has it that he was condemned to spend eternity pushing a great boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again just as he got it within reach of the summit. In the case of the Yes movement, our ‘eternal’ task is to roll the boulder of our “case for independence” up an ever steeper incline towards a constantly receding summit.

The “arbitrary tests” set by the British political elite have no pass mark. They will never be satisfied. Scotland will always be inferior. Because how else can England-as-Britain be superior?

Not for the first time it occurs to me that the most crucial prerequisite for the restoration of Scotland’s independence is a new mindset. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, tainted by generations of immersion in the culture British exceptionalism so well represented represented by Simon Heffer. Our minds are polluted with it. Some minds are totally colonised by it. It affects most people in Scotland to some degree. Otherwise, why would be trying to “make the case for independence” rather than demanding that British Nationalists justify their ‘precious’ Union?

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Empty lines

On December 12th, voters have the chance to send Boris Johnson a message and escape this Brexit fiasco once and for all.

The above quote is attributed by the Sunday National to SNP candidate for West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Fergus Mutch. It is not an original line. In fact, it is the line being pushed across the entire SNP election campaign at the moment – complete with the social media hashtag, #StopBrexit, and a rather intrusive gif. It’s a good line. That is to say, it sounds good. It has the superficial appeal common to all such glittering generalities. But neither Fergus Mutch nor, as far as I can determine, anyone else who speaks for the SNP has seen fit to explain or expand on the line in a way which might lift it out of the category of an emotionally appealing phrase amenable to being repeated with great conviction despite being devoid of supporting information or reason.

It looks good in a Tweet. It doubtless sounds good when parroted on the doorsteps. But what if somebody asks the obvious questions? What happens if Fergus Mutch, or any of the SNP campaigners instructed by the party to deploy this line, encounters an awkward bugger like myself who isn’t about to be satisfied with facile sloganeering?

What happens if somebody asks what message is being sent to Boris Johnson? Or why there might be any point in sending him any message at all?

What happens if somebody asks how this “Brexit fiasco” might be either escaped or stopped? What happens if they insist on being given an explanation of the process by which voting in a particular way – presumably for their local SNP candidate – on 12 December leads either to Scotland escaping an imposed Brexit or Brexit being stopped altogether?

Is it fair, or sensible, to send out candidates and campaigners to sell this line to voters without arming them to deal with such questions? And, if they have been armed with the answers, where might the rest of us access the relevant information?

While I’m on the subject of awkward questions, were we not assured that independence was to be at the heart of the SNP’s election campaign? Dare I suggest that #DissolveTheUnion is a lot closer to what we were promised than #StopBrexit. And it has the advantage of being something that could actually be done.

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It must be the SNP

I found it quite depressing reading through transcripts of the speeches given at The National’s rally in Glasgow yesterday. Not that the speeches weren’t for the most part, excellent. There is power and passion in them. There is outrage and anger. There is aspiration and ambition. There is hope and hints of the fear that this hope must overcome. The speeches were stirring. Rousing. Inspiring. But we’ve heard it all before.

But for the historical detail, there is hardly anything about any of these speeches which hasn’t been said in a thousand speeches and more since 2011. Much of what was said in George Square yesterday, and certainly the spirit in which it was said; the general tone of the thing, transports me back to the last time we were poised waiting to see if an imperious British state would grant its gracious consent to the exercise of our right of self-determination.

But it is not my intention to once again go over the well-trodden ground of concerns about the Section 30 process and the First Minister’s commitment to it. Everything that needs to be said about that has been said. With the rather notable exception of any explanation as to how that process might work for Scotland’s cause rather than for the cause of preserving the Union at whatever cost to our nation.

I am resigned to the fact that no such explanation is ever going to be forthcoming; either from the First Minister or from those who insist that her choice of a Unionist strategy to address Scotland’s constitutional issue should never be questioned or scrutinised. Concerns about the Section 30 process are not going to be answered – for the most obvious of reasons.

Amidst all the fine, if dated, rhetoric from yesterday’s event, one observation impressed me as relating pointedly to the reality of Scotland’s present predicament. I quote Paul Kavanagh at length.

We are here today to say we want Scottish independence. A lot of people have different ideas about the best way to get there, about different strategies at arriving at an independence referendum. But all those routes, all those different strategies must first cross the bridge of the General Election yet to come.

Next month there is going to be a General Election and it is vital Scotland sends back as many pro-independence MPs as possible in that election.

The message from Westminster will be – if we don’t do that – that Scotland doesn’t want independence.

If we don’t get out there and vote, if we don’t put our differences behind us and make sure we all campaign for the SNP to get as many MPs as possible, the message won’t be that we are disagreeing about strategy for getting an independence referendum. It won’t be that Scotland wants to send a message on climate change. It will be that Scotland doesn’t want an independence referendum.

It’s a fair point. It’s a statement of the obvious. But sometimes the obvious has to be stated in order to bring it out of the blur of the commonplace and into sharp focus. While concerns about the First Minister’s entire approach to the constitutional issue remain, none of that will matter a jot if we don’t successfully cross the bridge of the UK general election on 12 December.

In passing, we might note that this very fact makes the behaviour of the Scottish Greens inexplicable. It seems they intend to stand candidates in 20 or more constituencies, including at least a few where their presence on the ballot cannot possibly achieve anything other than put in jeopardy a seat held by the SNP.

Nobody disputes that the Scottish Greens are perfectly entitled to stand candidates in whatever constituencies they wish. Nobody is suggesting they owe the SNP any favours. They do, however, have a duty to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. They took that duty on themselves when they proclaimed their commitment to that cause. The SNP isn’t entitled to demand any sacrifices of the Scottish Greens. But the Yes movement has a perfect right to do so.

It may be argued that the Scottish Greens also have a duty to their members, and to causes other than independence – such as the climate crisis. But, while it is trivially easy to see how standing candidates in constituencies such as Perth and North Perthshire – where Pete Wishart is defending a majority of only 21 – threatens to cost us a pro-independence MP, it is extremely difficult to see how either Scottish Green Party members or the causes which they espouse might be served by contesting the seat. Barring a miracle of Biblical proportions, the Scottish Green candidate isn’t going to win. Nor is the climate crisis going to be better highlighted or addressed. There is nothing to be gained other than, perhaps, the shallow satisfaction of increasing their vote relative to the last time they stood a candidate. Satisfaction which would surely be short-lived should they take enough of those votes from Pete Wishart to ensure that his Tory opponent took the seat.

Consider the cost. Not only do the people of Perth and North Perthshire lose a damned fine constituency MP who has served them well for more than 18 years, the SNP group at Westminster is diminished, not only numerically but in terms of valuable experience. Scotland loses someone who has done excellent work as Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee and in various other capacities.

It doesn’t end there. I know that Scotland’s independence will not be restored through Westminster. I know that SNP MPs are treated appallingly by the British parties in the House of Commons. I know that they are not permitted to be at all effective in representing Scotland’s interests. But this does not mean there is no purpose in sending SNP MPs into the snake-pit of the British political system. Once again, the example of Perth and North Perthshire is illustrative. Should Pete Wishart lose the seat, it will be to somebody like Murdo Fraser. Somebody who has amply demonstrated their willingness eagerness to sacrifice Scotland’s interests in the name of political expediency, partisan loyalty, personal advancement, British Nationalist ideology or momentary convenience.

Are the Scottish Greens really prepared to risk this?

What is true of Perth and North Perthshire holds for the whole of Scotland. Even if you can find no other reason to support, campaign for and vote for your local SNP candidate, there is always the fact that SNP MPs fill places at Westminster which would otherwise be taken by individuals whose first loyalty is to neither their constituents nor to Scotland nor to democracy, but to their own careers, their party and their ‘precious’ Union.

Paul Kavanagh is right. There is no dilemma here. If you care about Scotland – our distinctive political culture; our prosperity and potential; our precious public services; our democratic institutions; our identity as a nation; our relationship with the rest of the world; our people and the generations to come – then you must do everything in your power to ensure the maximum number of SNP MPs are sent to Westminster.

To be clear, I am aware that many in the SNP are exploiting this imperative to divert criticism of their performance and scrutiny of the party’s strategy in the independence campaign. Unfortunate – even shameful – as this unquestionably is, it is as nothing compared to the urgent necessity of protecting Scotland from the forces of rampant British Nationalism. And the only way to do that is to #VoteSNP.

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Finding unity

Andrew Wilson is almost entirely correct when he says that “the SNP has to unify the independence case and cause and then unify the country behind it“. That is, indeed, the task facing the party. The part of his argument which gives cause for concern is when he refers to “making a comprehensive case for “why independence””. He is wrong because it simply can’t be done.

The Yes movement is famously diverse. Which is a large part of its strength. But while diversity may be advantageous in a political movement, it is likely to be a weakness in a political campaign. Because a political campaign demands unity, focus and discipline, diversity almost inevitably degenerates into division.

There are countless definitions, versions and visions of independence. They cover a broad range of political perspectives from the small ‘c’ conservative right to the radical left. There is just no way these divergent perspectives can be brought together. They are all too often contradictory and mutually exclusive.

It’s easy to say that we all are united by the conviction that Scotland’s independence must be restored. But there is never going to be any substantial agreement on what independence means. There cannot be a single set of policies and positions that satisfies even a significant portion of the independence movement. Andrew Wilson and Robin McAlpine may both live in Indyburgh, but they don’t live on the same street, far less share a political bed.

Alex Salmond made a brave attempt to produce a unified case for independence with ‘Scotland’s Future’. It was intended as a ‘blueprint’ that the whole Yes movement could support, however grudgingly, without seriously compromising their principles or their ideology. It was probably as close as anyone is ever going to get to the kind unified case that Andrew refers to. And it failed!

The ‘White Paper’ for the 2014 didn’t work as intended, in part because many failed to understand its purpose, but mainly because there were too many entrenched positions – and no readiness to compromise.

‘Scotland’s Future’ ended up being a gift to the anti-independence campaign. It provided them with a plethora of targets to attack and countless opportunities to aggravate and exploit divisions in the independence movement. The currency issue is illustrative. There was no rational reason why the entire movement could not support the position set out in the ‘White Paper’. At the very least, even the far left could have just settled for the general fallback position that monetary policy would be decided by a democratically elected Scottish Government after independence was restored. Instead, they attacked the position viciously and incessantly. In so doing, they undermined the Yes campaign.

Better Together / Project Fear exposed and emphasised existing differences by asking the “What currency?” question. It was a trap. And the largest part of the Yes movement walked right into it. They came up with numerous different answer. Then started arguing amongst themselves about which was ‘correct’. None of them were ‘correct’! There is no correct answer to the question because monetary policy cannot be stipulated in advance. All public policy must respond to developments and be shaped by circumstances. Monetary policy is no exception – even if, by the nature of things, it is less responsive and less malleable than, say, fiscal policy.

In a political campaign, when your opponents throw questions at you, your first response should not be to scurry around trying to find an answer which will satisfy both your opponents and your own side. Your opponents will never admit to being satisfied and, if it is a contentious issue, there will be those on your own side who may be genuinely and vociferously dissatisfied. Your opponents, if they are any good, will always ask questions about contentious issues. Your first reaction should be to ask yourself why they are asking a given question.

There are three reasons. Questions generate doubt. The fact that a question is being asked makes the thing it’s being asked about questionable. The more questions that are asked, and the more effort there is to answer them, the more dubious the thing becomes in the minds of those attending to the debate.

Also, your opponents will ask question that they know will bring out the disagreement within your side. That’s pretty much a constant and true of any question.

They might also ask a particular question in order to divert the debate from the question they don’t want asked of them. In the case of the currency issue, the question they didn’t want to have to answer was “Do you believe Scotland is capable of managing its own monetary policy?”. If, instead of the knee-jerk response the Yes movement indulged in, we had thrown that question at British Nationalist politicians, it would have turned things around.

Why have no lessons been learned from the 2014 campaign? That is a question the SNP and the Yes movement do need to answer. Andrew notes that our opponents “won’t even make the positive case for the Union”. Of course they won’t! they have never been required to. We were too busy frantically scabbling around trying to find more and better answers to ever ask them awkward questions. They new better than get into debate about the detail of their case. We obsessed about the detail of ours. There could never be even broad agreement about such detail. The more detail there is, the more scope for disagreement.

Division will always undermine a campaign. Discussion of policy will always create division. The solution? Don’t discuss policy!

A unified, focused and disciplined political campaign cannot be built around a contested concept. As we have learned, ‘independence’ is a highly contested concept. It didn’t help that the framing of the 2014 referendum question made ‘independence’ the contentious issue. Independence is normal. It is the Union which is anomalous. And there is the key to unifying the cause. There can be no unified case for independence. So it is all the more important to bring together the whole independence movement with a unified case against the Union.

Unifying the cause – bringing together all the diverse parts of the independence movement – requires that we find the single factor which is common to all those parts. I call it the point of accommodation. The point at which even the most divergent elements of the Yes movement can reach agreement. The point of accommodation is encapsulated in the hashtag #DissolveTheUnion. That is the thing that every single person in the Yes movement holds in common. We all want independence. But we cannot all agree on what independence is or should be. We can, however, all agree that restoring independence requires that we dissolve the political union between Scotland and England.

That is how we unite the cause. We create a unified case against the Union. We make the Union the contentious issue. We force our opponents to defend the Union. We ask questions about the Union. We exploit already growing doubts about the Union and plant new doubts about the Union in people’s minds.

We explain to people, in a frank, forthright and honest manner, what the Union means for Scotland; and what it promises to mean in the future. We tap into people’s sense of justice and spark their anger at the injustice of the Union.

We do all this while offering the people of Scotland a straightforward solution to the problem of an anomalous, archaic and grotesquely asymmetric, Union. We offer them the option to dissolve the Union. We offer them the chance to restore constitutional normality. We offer them independence.

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