Fine words

Ian Blackford portentously declares that the next UK general election will be “one of the most important in Scotland’s history”. If we are to take him at his word, we must know what makes it so. What is it about this election that makes it so significant for Scotland? How might the election impact Scotland? In what way will the outcome of the election determine Scotland’s future?

What are Ian Blackford’s – and, we must assume, the SNP’s – priorities in this election? What do he and they hope to get out of it?

Of course, as Mr Blackford speaks, there is no election. Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the next UK general election isn’t due until 5 May 2022. Few people, however, expect the current regime to last that long. The smart money isn’t betting on anything right now. But there is talk of opposition scheming to bring down the government and force an election in December. Spare a thought for the canvassers and leafleters who will have winter weather to contend with.

What you may have noted is that this date is beyond the most recent Brexit deadline. So it’s not at all clear what the point might be in “putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the election campaign, as Ian Blackford states is the SNP’s intention. Whatever else might be achieved, there is no way for an election to turn back the clock or alter the past. By December, Brexit will be a fait accompli. Scotland will have been wrenched from the EU against the will of the Scottish voters. By December, the deluge of Mad Brexiteer triumphalism provoked by a no-deal Brexit may just be starting to abate. The harsh realities of Brexit may even be beginning to bite despite the British government’s efforts to bury them under a pile of money and propaganda.

Is Ian Blackford suggesting that the SNP will be asking people to vote for them as a protest against Brexit and/or the contempt shown for Scotland’s democratic will by the British establishment? It’s a strategy of a sort, I suppose. But ‘Vote SNP as a futile gesture’ is hardly the most compelling campaign slogan ever devised.

Maybe the SNP is hoping for a further extension in the further hope that there may yet be hope of stopping Brexit. Some hope! It is true that the British parliament has passed legislation which will force the British Prime Minister to request another Article 50 extension if, by October 19, he hasn’t managed to persuade MPs to vote for either the ‘deal’ that they’ve already repeatedly rejected or a ‘new deal’ which currently exists only in Boris Johnson’s roiling imagination. Commentators are busy speculating about the possibility that the malignant child-clown might simply ignore this legal requirement.

There is little reason to suppose Boris Johnson might be prevented from breaking the law by a personal moral code evidently even less substantial than the ‘new deal’ which hasn’t actually been proposed and which the EU isn’t actually prepared to negotiate even if it actually had been proposed. But Boris probably won’t have to risk whatever penalty he might incur by defying the law and refusing to ask for more time. There’s a very good chance that the EU will not grant this request; especially if there are no fresh proposals – not involving wishful thinking and magic – which might break the deadlock. Johnson need only deploy the dithering and bluster which are his political stock in trade and the UK leaves the EU at 23:00 on 31 October by default.

The hope of stopping Brexit is looking rather forlorn. Opposition after the fact is a decidedly hollow basis for an election campaign. Indeed, the SNP might be well-advised to avoid any mention of Brexit, lest they remind voters of just how ineffectual their opposition has been. What else might they say about Brexit other than that they failed to prevent it being imposed on Scotland. Perhaps the campaign slogan might be ‘At least we tried!’.

Fortunately, Ian Blackford isn’t suggesting a campaign which relies entirely on a combination of credit for effort and post hoc protest. Alongside that “opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the SNP campaign will be a demand that Scotland’s people be given “our right to choose our own future with independence”. Which immediately prompted me to wonder why we are asking for this right if it is already ours. If it’s a right it requires no permission. If it’s ours we have no need to seek that permission. Already this second prong of the SNP’s election campaign strategy is starting to look as wobbly as the first.

What Ian Blackford is referring to is, needless to say, the Section 30 order that our First Minister has declared essential for a ‘legal’ independence referendum. On the matter of the process which must be followed to make the referendum legitimate, Nicola Sturgeon is in full agreement with those who are determined to ensure that a referendum doesn’t happen. You may count me among those who find this a curious position for the First Minister to have contrived for herself. She has committed to a process which is fraught with problems and pitfalls and, in doing so, she has ruled out all other options by effectively branding them illegal. You may count me among those who find this squandering of options totally incomprehensible.

But let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that the Section 30 process is undoubtedly toxic. Let us consider only the demand for a Section 30 order as a plank in the SNP’s platform come the next UK general election. Various questions may be asked of such a demand. Is it reasonable? How you answer that will depend on whether you recognise the toxic nature of the Section 30 process. And whether the question relates to the reasonableness of the requesting or the granting. A better question might ask if it is reasonable to be required to ask for permission to exercise a right which you already have the right to exercise. However, we’ve already covered that ground.

Another question that might be asked of a demand made as part of an election campaign is whether it is realistic. Is it possible for the demand to be met? How likely is it to be met? Is there any point to it?

The answer to these questions depends on the outcome of the election. Whether the demand is realistic or attainable or meaningful is all down to the make-up of the House of Commons in the wake of the election. Rather helpfully, Stu Campbell on Wings Over Scotland has done the arithmetic for us. He has modelled various scenarios ranging from the highly probable to ludicrously fantastical. In none of these scenarios does the SNP Westminster group end up in a position to secure that Section 30 order. Even winning 51 of Scotland’s 59 seats, the SNP simply wouldn’t have the necessary numbers.

None of Stu Campbell’s scenarios had the SNP win all the seats. But I suspect the end result would be the same. Whatever the weight of public support for independence it will always be outweighed in the British parliament by the overwhelming majority of Unionist MPs. The obvious conclusion being that it is utterly pointless to suppose Scotland’s independence might be restored via Westminster. It will only be restored by the Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament in a way that breaks the British state’s rules but with the support of the Scottish people.

In summarising, let’s look at what Ian Blackford said,

The SNP will be putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose our own future with independence at the heart of the contest… 

Scots urged to register to vote ahead of ‘crucial’ General Election

In the next UK general election, it looks like the SNP will be campaigning to stop something that’s already happened and to get something we already have by demanding something they can’t get and which they shouldn’t be asking for because asking for it does harm and getting it does even more harm.

You may count me among those who are not at all impressed. Not for the first time, Ian Blackford offers fine words which leave the parsnips quite devoid of butter.



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I am not the enemy

One of the ways we recognise the “siren voices of populism” is their penchant for grossly misrepresenting any who challenge or criticise them. Andrew Wilson evidently wasn’t mindful of this when he implied that those expressing concerns about the SNP’s strategy were trying to “sell a pup to a population that deserves the best of honesty”. Or, indeed, with that line about “siren voices of populism and extremism”. Or even the repeated mentions of “populism”. I’m sure he reckons he’s done a rather fine job of tarring the SNP’s critics with the brush of “Trump, Johnson, Farage et al” but, for me, the attempt to contrive negative associations was all a bit obvious. One might even say clumsy.

As one of those who is deeply troubled by Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue I am left a little perplexed by Andrew’s attempt to discredit and diminish people such as myself. He says that the SNP is at its best when it is “front foot, ambitious, outward-facing, welcoming, positive” – and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, this is precisely what I am urging. Andrew Wilson might have done better to consider the reasons I and others find it necessary to so urge the party leadership.

Had he not been so intent on disparaging those who decline to toe the party line on the new independence referendum and the subsequent campaign, andrew might have been able to discern the fact that what I and others are seeking is no more than that the SNP should be what it is when it is at its best. We want Nicola Sturgeon to get on the front foot rather than merely reacting to to the pond-life twitchings and squirmings of the British political elite. We want her to be more ambitious than settle for whatever the British state is prepared to offer. We want her to be outward-facing towards the wider Yes movement and to welcome it as a rich resource rather than shunning it as if it might sully her political purity. We want her to be positive about Scotland and its people and its capacities rather than about her own ideas of how to proceed.

We want the SNP to remember what it is for and to at least acknowledge what it is against.

We need no lectures about the absolute necessity of backing Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. We know, at least as well as Andrew Wilson, that the SNP is the lever by which Scotland will be prised out of an injurious and demeaning political union. We know that Nicola Sturgeon and her administration represent the fulcrum on which that lever move. But we recognise that it doesn’t end there. We are aware that this lever requires a solid base on which to rest – the Scottish Parliament. and we have long been cognisant of the threat to Holyrood which Nicola Sturgeon has only lately acknowledged.

We further recognise that this lever is all but useless without the force that can only be provided by the Yes movement. So we can hardly be criticised for our anxieties about that force being diverted or dissipated as a consequence of the way Nicola Sturgeon is seen to be handling things.

I can only speak for myself when I say that I with Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP all the way to independence. But my commitment is, not to any party or personality, but to Scotland’s cause. I therefore reserve the right to do whatever I might to steer the party and its leadership on what I consider to be the course which will most surely take us to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. And to sound a warning when I think they have strayed from that course.

I am firmly persuaded that this can be done without harm to either the party or the cause. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it. I am not the enemy. Neither are any of those in the SNP or the wider Yes movement who voice concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s option-squandering and highly contentious commitment to the Section 30 process. Or about what many see as a failure to learn the lessons of the 2014 campaign.

It is disappointing, to say the least, that the SNP should feel it necessary to propagandise against those who do no more than offer alternative ideas as to how we might best proceed on Scotland’s journey to independence.



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Being ineffectual

No doubt the SNP, and many in the Yes movement, will be celebrating the Times poll which confirms that the party is on course to secure significant gains at both Westminster and Holyrood. No doubt Professor John Curtice will be widely quoted, having stated that “it can no longer be presumed that Scotland would vote No again in an independence ballot”. No doubt the implications of the poll’s findings on support for independence will be quietly swept under the carpet.

After five tumultuous years culminating in a far-right British government led by Boris Johnson pursuing a potentially catastrophic agenda, support for independence remains static. At 49% Yes versus 51% No it only just avoids being within margin of error of the 2014 result. What does this say about the SNP’s strategy over this five year period? I suggest it says nothing at all flattering.

Looking back over those five years it seems that pretty much everything that has happened – and everything that has been done by the British political elite – should have benefitted the independence cause massively. If the polls are to be believed, the cause has benefited not at all. We are entitled to ask why. We are entitled to wonder how it is possible that so many opportunities could have been missed and so many openings left unexploited and so much time squandered.

And still, despite this and other evidence that its approach has been totally ineffective, the SNP leadership stubbornly insists on sticking to the same strategy. Although the term ‘strategy’ is used here only in the loosest of senses as there is no clearly identifiable plan. To all appearances, the SNP administration has simply been dragged along in the wake of a British state accelerating towards a political, diplomatic and economic black hole of its own making.

Were this scenario part of a movie script the plot-line would be discarded as too implausible. It is simply not credible that the events of the past five years could have had no impact whatsoever on the constitutional issue. The writers would have been told to go back to their keyboards and think again. Unless, of course, this was a dramatic device intended to convey monumental failure on the part of the SNP.

Maybe the polls are wrong. I’m sure that claim is already permeating social media. Perhaps all the polls are wrong. Perhaps the implausible hasn’t happened at all and the events of the past five years have had an impact on public attitudes which isn’t being reflected in the polls. Aye! Maybe that’s it! Maybe all the polls have been rigged!

Or maybe not.

Deploy Occam’s often inconvenient razor and we are left with but one explanation for the lack of movement in the polls – nothing has been done that would make them move. One their own, political developments do not necessarily have a direct effect on public opinion. It very much depends on the nature of the development and, perhaps more crucially, the perception of it once the facts have been filtered and manipulated by the media. Ensuring a desired impact requires purposeful action every bit as much as ensuring little or no impact. Somebody has to make something of it or others can easily make nothing of it.

In all of the five years since the 2014 election I can think of only one occasion when the SNP has purposefully and effectively exploited a situation. That was when the Westminster group staged a walkout in protest at the British government’s seizure of powers returning from the EU which rightfully should have gone to the devolved administrations.

That’s it! There’s been nothing else. Lots of speeches condemning this and that. Countless Tweets ‘slamming’ one thing or another. But no concerted, coordinated, coherent strategy to exploit the myriad instances in which the British political elite rendered itself vulnerable. Nothing to grab the public’s attention, never mind its sympathy.

I don’t say all this in a spirit of condemnation. Although I realise that it will almost inevitably be received that way – if only because a condemnatory tone is all but impossible to avoid in the circumstances. What I intend is constructive criticism. What I hope is that the SNP leadership will, even at this late stage, accept that ‘playing nice’ is not working. What I hope is that they will at last start listening to those who are urging a change of tactics.

What I hope for from the Scottish Government is less accommodation and more confrontation. Less compliance and more defiance. Less complacency and more urgency. Less talk and more action.

What I anticipate, regretfully, is more of the evidently ineffectual same.



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A dangerous thought

Some time ago, and in a different context, I wrote about what I still regard as the most fundamental attribute of the Yes movement.

Yes is a diverse, open, inclusive, unstructured popular movement. It is NOT an organisation. That is as it should be. That is its strength. It is not hierarchical. It is an amorphous, informal, organic network. That is the essence of its power.

There are no leaders of the Yes movement. But there are leaders IN the Yes movement. Leadership arises as leadership is required. When that leadership ceases to be necessary, it merges back into the movement ready to be called upon if needed. The Yes movement has no need of leaders so long as it has this potential for emergent leadership.

I think this fits quite comfortably with Jason Baird’s kitten analogy while taking it into the realm of human intellect rather than animal instinct. We are not kittens. Like all analogies, Jason’s breaks down on close contact with reality.

The phenomenon of emergent leadership was, for me, brought into sharp focus at the first of Yes Registry’s Gatherings. A task had to be performed. An objective had to be achieved. And the leadership needed to accomplish this simply emerged from among the people involved, and remained for the as long as it was required. It was a remarkable thing to witness.

Jason is right. It is at least as impossible to impose a fixed hierarchical order on the Yes movement as it is to herd cats. But this does not imply chaos. There is order within the Yes movement. Even, at times and in certain circumstances, something akin to a transient hierarchical structure. Whatever it takes to get the job done.

The nature of the task at hand defines the need for emergent leadership and determines the form that this leadership takes. This thought has been very much at the forefront of my mind of late as I contemplate how the different elements of the independence cause can be brought together and made to work effectively as a campaigning organisation. Which is where I present an analogy of my own.

In this analogy, the SNP is the lever by means of which Scotland will be prised out of the Union. The Scottish Government (Nicola Sturgeon) is the fulcrum on which the lever moves. The Scottish Parliament is the solid base on which the lever rests. The Yes movement is the force which must be applied to the lever. It is absolutely essential that these components work together. Otherwise, nothing much happens.

The most problematic part of all this is the relationship between the Yes movement and the SNP. Once again, I dip into my blog archive.

An accommodation must be found. Factionalism is most certainly not any kind of solution. It is, in fact, a way of avoiding the difficult task of finding that accommodation between the SNP and the Yes movement – and among all the elements of the independence cause – which will allow each and all to be effective.

The single point at which all the elements of the independence cause meet is the Union. The thing that everybody in the independence movement agrees on is that the Union must end. It cannot even be said that all agree on independence. Because there are differing ideas about what independence means. There is no ambiguity whatever about the imperative to end the Union.

What I have been pondering lately is how best we might move towards this accommodation. It occurs to me that, if the theory of emergent leadership holds, then the necessary leadership should emerge from the Yes movement. The task of opening a productive dialogue between the Yes movement and the SNP will demand a particular kind of leadership. And it may be something that many in the Yes movement will be uncomfortable with.

It may be time for the Yes movement to find from among its massive number a person or persons who can sit down with the SNP leadership and speak for the Yes movement as a whole.



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The formula

There’s a distinct note of desperation in the way senior SNP figures can’t speak of the Ashcroft poll without using terms such as “phenomenal”. Like those people at major celebratory events who are trying just that wee bit too hard to look like they’re having the most fun anyone has ever had. Who are they trying to convince?

In Keith Brown’s case, that would be us – party members and the rest of the Yes movement. The SNP leadership has seized on the Ashcroft poll with the eagerness of someone accused of a serious crime who has suddenly been offered an alibi. At last! Something they can represent as vindicating the relentless waiting that has become their only discernible strategy.

But all the purple prose and rhetorical superlatives cannot long divert from the fact that, approaching five years after the first referendum, the independence cause has not been advanced one millimetre by anything attributable to the SNP. It will be protested that they are doing stuff now, such as Citizens’ Assemblies and the Referendums Bill. But that merely prompts questions about why these things weren’t done two or even three years ago.

By their reaction to the Ashcroft poll, if nothing else, the SNP demonstrates the importance it attaches to such indicators of the public mood. So the fact that the polls have barely twitched while the British political elite has been behaving like a troupe of demented clowns must say something about the SNP’s ‘strategy’. And nothing very complimentary. If there was a ‘secret’ plan to take advantage of the disarray among British Nationalist politicians then it has been so secret as to leave no impression either on the polls or on the consciousness of observers.

And before the idiot SNP-haters get their smug faces on, this also demonstrates that the Yes movement can’t do it alone. Because nothing the Yes movement has done in the last few years has had a significant impact on the polls either. If anything, this simply proves the need for the SNP and the Yes movement to work together.

But even if all the parts of the independence movement were working well together, they would still require some kind of strategy. And ultimate responsibility for setting that strategy must rest with the SNP. The Yes movement has a vital role to play in developing the strategy. Having no hierarchical structures of its own, however, the Yes movement has to rely on leadership provided by the SNP. The SNP has not done nearly enough to connect with and draw on the people power and campaigning resources of the Yes movement. The Yes movement has to do better at utilising the political power and organisational resources of the SNP.

Kenny MacAskill’s criticisms of the First Minister may be largely, if not wholly, justified. But this is not a time for recriminations. Opportunities have missed. Time has been squandered – in particular the extra year’s grace afforded by the Article 50 extension. Rather than making us bitter or despondent, this should goad us into efforts to make up for the time that has been lost and create new opportunities to replace those that have been missed.

Developing an effective campaign strategy requires that the SNP and the Yes movement work together. As I wrote three months ago – evidently to no avail,

An accommodation must be found. Factionalism is most certainly not any kind of solution. It is, in fact, a way of avoiding the difficult task of finding that accommodation between the SNP and the Yes movement – and among all the elements of the independence cause – which will allow each and all to be effective.

In the Yes movement, we have come almost to worship diversity as the greatest of virtues. For a movement, this may be true, But for a campaign, the greatest virtue is solidarity. In celebrating our diversity, we have fallen into the habit of talking about our differences, rather than that which we hold in common. Recognition that “we all want the same thing” tends to come as an afterthought to lengthy discussion of distinctive policy platforms – if it comes at all. We talk about our respective visions for Scotland’s future, relegating consideration of the key to that future to somewhere lower down the agenda.

The single point at which all the elements of the independence cause meet is the Union. The thing that everybody in the independence movement agrees on is that the Union must end. It cannot even be said that all agree on independence. Because there are differing ideas about what independence means. There is no ambiguity whatever about the imperative to end the Union.

It is a happy coincidence that the point at which all the elements of the independence campaign come together also happens to be the British state’s weakest point. So, let’s not talk of factions. No faction is going to prise Scotland out of its entanglement in the British state. This will only be achieved by the four constituent parts of the independence campaign acting in accord. The SNP as the lever. The Scottish Government (Nicola Sturgeon) as the fulcrum. The Scottish Parliament as the base. The Yes movement as the force.

And let us all agree that the object we are acting against is the Union.



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Waiting for worse

What’s going on in the upper echelons of the SNP? What is the current thinking on Scotland’s predicament? Is there a plan, or even an intention, to address the constitutional issue? When is the First Minister going to act, and what is she going to do?

These are the questions preoccupying many, perhaps most, people in the Yes movement. We are all looking for clues. We scrutinise every statement made by Nicola Sturgeon and every article written by senior figures in the SNP seeking some indication of what the immediate future holds. As often as not this turns out to be a disappointing and even a depressing activity.

Pete Wishart’s latest musings and mutterings from Perthshire is a case in point. Anyone looking there for hints as to the SNP’s thinking would come away wondering if the party leadership is even aware of Scotland’s predicament. They might well suppose there is no constitutional issue at all for all the attention it gets. They would be in no doubt that, for Mr Wishart at least, the overriding concern is. not so much Scotland’s fate as the party’s – and his own – electoral fortunes.

Clues come early. The article is titled The total humiliation of Ruth Davidson. The very first sentence reads “the Scottish Tories are in trouble”. This sets the tone for the whole article. Now, I’m sure we all relish Ruth Davidson’s embarrassment. But the fact that Davidson’s abasement is now a commonplace of Scottish politics rather takes the edge off the schadenfreude. I’m equally sure that most people in Scotland are perfectly OK with the Scottish Tories being in trouble. But I suspect many will feel that, however delightful the turmoil it has provoked in the Scottish branch of the British Conservative & Unionist Party, the implications for Scotland of Boris Johnson’s elevation to the role of Prime Minister are of considerably greater importance.

There is passing mention of the fact that Johnson being PM means a majority of Scottish voters would vote for independence. But nothing at all about whether or when they might get the opportunity to vote for independence. It is clear that, for Pete Wishart, what matters is the fact that Johnson is an “electoral liability”

Of course, electoral success for the SNP is important. Indeed, it is crucial to Scotland’s cause. If only there were any indication that Pete Wishart sees Ruth Davidson’s woes in that context. But it seems that the constitutional context figures in his thinking hardly at all. The entire focus is on winning the next election.

Having read his article, I anticipate more than a few comments about Pete Wishart being overly concerned with keeping his seat. I would invite those contemplating such comments to grow up and have a wee think. Of course the man is concerned to keep his seat! Why wouldn’t he be? What is wrong with that? Pete Wishart is a career politician. It has been a very successful career. It stands to reason that he would not wish it to end in electoral defeat.

Winning Perth and North Perthshire for the SNP is Pete Wishart’s job. Of course it is important to him. He serves his constituents well. And, simply by holding that seat in the British parliament he makes a valuable contribution to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Criticising him for wanting to win is just plain stupid.

What is troubling is the thought that this latest article from Pete Wishart might tell us something about the attitudes and priorities of the SNP leadership. It is one thing for individual elected members to give precedence to their electoral prospects. That, as has been noted, is their job. Getting elected is their immediate task. But the party as a whole has wider concerns and different priorities. We would hope that these concerns and priorities are shared by those who lead the party. Those who are also the nation’s political leaders.

I have frequently observed that the SNP is very good at winning elections. Perhaps not so good at single-issue political campaigns. It is only to be expected that they will play to their strengths. Which suggests that an electoral route to independence might well be their preference. That the ‘Plan B’ proposed by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny is actually the ‘Plan A’. It may well be that the SNP is pinning the hopes of the Yes movement on an early UK general election and a big win. And it’s not only Pete Wishart giving this impression. Angus Robertson also seems to think the mandate for a referendum needs yet more confirmation.

If this is the way the SNP leadership is thinking then it would certainly explain the present inaction. As ever, it seems to be a case of waiting for the British government to do something. Waiting for events to play out. Waiting for ‘clarity’. Waiting for the ‘right time’. Waiting.

In electoral terms, this may be a valid strategy. If your opponents are in disarray and making themselves unelectable it makes sense to let them get on with it. When the votes are counted in Perth and North Perthshire it makes no difference whether Pete Wishart has won or the Tories have lost. Pete returns to Westminster either way. In the context of the independence campaign, however, waiting for our opponents to lose just won’t work. Because the things that are an electoral liability for the Scottish Tories and causing Ruth Davidson great embarrassment are developments which strengthen the British Nationalism which is the real threat to Scotland.

My fear is that the SNP leadership may have come to confuse and conflate electoral success for the party with success for the independence cause. But beating the Tories is not enough. The Tories are not the problem. The Union is the problem. Even the total collapse and disintegration of the British Conservative & Unionist Party does not spell victory for Scotland’s cause. It means only the advent of an even greater threat to Scotland’s democracy. Defeating the Tories will only leave us facing an even more determined and more ruthless manifestation of British Nationalism.

Personally, I’d rather not wait for that.



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A question of courage

A remark by Dr Craig Dalzell on his Common Green blog caught my attention. In an article discussing the post-independence fate of the British state’s nuclear arsenal on Scottish soil, he writes,

… it may be that the Scottish Government simply isn’t brave enough to demand the removal of the weapons…

Controversial as this statement may be, it was not what was suggested that struck me, but my reaction to it. Six months ago – maybe even three months ago – I would have responded angrily that it is totally ridiculous to imagine the SNP would renege on its commitment to remove this abomination from our land. I would have objected strongly to the suggestion that an SNP administration might go into talks with the British government unprepared and timid.

I would have pointed out what a strong hand the Scottish side in talks on the independence settlement would have. I would have mercilessly mocked the notion that SNP politicians could be unaware of that strength, or unwilling to use it.

Don’t get me wrong! I continue to be absolutely persuaded that arrangements for the removal of Trident will be a very important part of the settlement. The British state’s weapons of mass destruction must go. That is a political imperative. The precise nature of the arrangements will depend on a number of factors. But the bottom line is a red line. Trident must go!

No sane, sober and sensible person supposes that the whole shebang will be shut down and shipped out on day one. The single strong card that the Brits will have is safety. And that card trumps pretty much everything. The Scottish Government cannot set an unrealistic deadline for removal of the British state’s nuclear paraphernalia. It may be that the Scottish Government cannot set any kind of deadline at all without risking accusations of compromising safety for the sake of politics. But, whatever the arrangements are, it must be clear that the end-point is the total removal of Trident.

Personally, I favour the ramping rent solution. Craig Dalzell nicely sets out the problems – and potential problems – with a leasing arrangement. The danger that the Scottish exchequer grows over fond of – or reliant on – the revenue. The risk that a short-term lease becomes a long-term lease and then a rolling lease. I believe these issues can be overcome by making the lease increasingly expensive for the British state – rent rising annually by a percentage that also increases – so that there is a financial imperative to move out but no political pressure which might be portrayed as the Scottish Government lacking due concern for safety.

Also, revenue from the lease should be ring-fenced for one-off capital projects that otherwise would be unlikely to be funded. That way, Scotland’s budget doesn’t become dependent on income from the lease.

All of which is by way of an aside. The discussion of options relating to removal of Trident is interesting. But what troubled me about Craig Dalzell’s comment was the suggestion that ” the Scottish Government simply isn’t brave enough”. And the fact that, unlike a few months ago, I now felt disinclined to reject this out of hand.

I now find my self obliged to consider the possibility that the Scottish Government just isn’t brave enough. The long months, stretching into years, of hesitancy and prevarication and general reluctance to confront the constitutional issue has drained the confidence that I once had in the SNP and in Nicola Sturgeon.

The other day, as I was writing about the implications for Scotland of Boris Johnson being anointed British Prime Minister, I paused to reflect on how the Scottish people would react to something like the Scottish Parliament being ‘suspended’. Obviously, there would be anger. But I was surprised to find that, in my imagining, the anger was directed, not at Boris Johnson, the British state or the Union, but at the First Minister and the Scottish Government and the SNP. Being able to imagine something doesn’t make it true or likely. But continuing to envisage it, not in a reverie, but in the light of cold political analysis, causes alarm bells to ring.

The great American aviation pioneer and author, Amelia Earhart, once said,

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.

For far too long the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement has been characterised by indecision and inaction. Whatever good the SNP administration has been doing – and it is undeniable that it has done a great deal of good – in terms of providing leadership for the independence movement and taking forward Scotland’s cause, the SNP’s performance has fallen far short of the hopes and expectations of many in the Yes movement. Opportunities have been missed. Initiative has been lost. Momentum has been squandered.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe the Scottish Government just isn’t brave enough.



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