Strength. Power. Authority. Action.

The stubborn, unjustifiable and unconcerned response of the Prime Minister shows how untouchable he believes he and his cronies are. Ultimately, it is up to the public whether they are untouchable, or whether they will be held to account.

Mhairi Black: PM’s mask has slipped … he doesn’t care about the public

Why would he not believe he’s untouchable. He is! That is the reality. The next UK general election is by default scheduled to be held on Thursday 2 May 2024 – slightly less than four years from now. Or roughly 200 of Mhairi’s columns in The National. She can devote every single one of them to redundantly informing us how terrible Boris Johnson and his cronies are and how terrible it is that they get to dictate so much public policy in Scotland despite having no democratic legitimacy, and it won’t make a blind bit of difference.

After that election, Mhairi can go back to pointlessly stating the obvious about how terrible Boris blah! blah! blah! Because, as things stand, Boris will still be British Prime Minister and he will still be surrounded by the same cronies. Or maybe there will be another British Prime Minister and another set of cronies. In which case Mhairi can simply recycle those 200 articles with a few name-changes. Because whether it’s Boris The First or Boris The Next and however much the crony-pack is shuffled they will still dictate public policy in Scotland despite lacking any democratic legitimacy.

Nothing changes until somebody changes it. The British political system will continue its descent into chaotic ineptitude coupled with increasing authoritarianism and the British political elite will continue to exert their baleful, illegitimate influence over Scotland unless and until the Scottish Government takes the necessary action through the Scottish Parliament to put an end to it. No amount of complaining will alter the situation by the merest fraction of an iota. Not all the anti-Tory rhetoric Mhairi might muster will make the merest particle of a scintilla of difference.

We’ve had enough fine words to fill an Olympic swimming pool the size of Belgium and still those parsnips remain distinctly unbuttered.

And we can easily see why. The clue is in the words of Mhairi Black MP,

Ultimately, it is up to the public whether they are untouchable, or whether they will be held to account.

Which is fine – if you are a politician trying to wriggle off a hook. If you’re a politician looking to excuse failure or rationalise inaction then it is very convenient to be able to say that it’s not up to you because “ultimately, it is up to the public”. It even has the advantage of being true – in a sense and as far as it goes. It is true in the sense that ultimate political authority is vested in and derives from the sovereign people. It is true to the extent that the people are able to translate that authority into action.

And that is where Mhairi’s statement encounters a problem. That translation from authority requires an intermediary. Which is where Mhairi comes in. Or should. It is where politicians come in. Or should. It is where political parties come in. Or should.

Further explanation demands that I get over two issues. My aversion to repeating myself. And my reluctance to sound condescending. But if I’d explained the point adequately on all those previous occasions I wouldn’t be obliged to repeat the explanation now. And if I come across as condescending in the process it’s only because it is such a fundamental point that it really shouldn’t require any explanation at all. I too can contrive excuses and rationalisations.

I have previously pointed out that political parties are analogous to trade unions. Just as the latter facilitate combination in order to exert influence in the sphere of employment, so the former allow us to act collectively to exert influence in the sphere of public policy. If either are doing what they are intended to do, that can only be our fault. Trade unions and political parties are ours to use. If we allow others to use them in our stead then we have little right to complain that they are not being used for our preferred purpose.

What I perhaps failed to do was properly explain the difference between strength and power. It may even be that I have failed to make this crucial distinction. My bad! For it is, indeed, a crucial distinction. We are many. The many have strength. The many have no power. That is to say, the masses lack the means to translate their strength into power directed to a particular purpose. What I call effective political power. Strength is necessary to get stuff done. But it is not power until it is harnessed and purposefully applied. Political parties are the intermediary by which the strength of the people is directed to specific ends. They are the necessary tool to translate diffuse strength into power focused on achieving a particular outcome.

Or not!

As an SNP politician Mhairi cannot get off the hook by shrugging her shoulders and saying it’s a matter for the people to sort out. As an SNP politician she is part of the tool chosen by the people as the means of translating their strength into the effective political power which they intend should relieve Scotland of the baleful and illegitimate influence exerted by Boris Johnson, his cronies and their successors. And it’s not happening!

It’s not happening because the intermediary is not working. The strength of the people is undeniable. The need to end the Union which gives spurious legitimacy to the British state’s influence in Scotland is as great as it ever was and more urgent than it has ever been. It’s the bit in between that’s letting us down.

Bemoaning the awfulness of Boris and the Brits is a pointless and futile distraction. Boris and the Brits are not the problem. Because they are not the intermediary. They are not the tool that we need. They will not translate the strength of Scotland’s people into effective political power directed to ending their ability to claim Scotland’s strength as their own.

Scotland’s constitutional status has absolutely nothing to do with Boris and the Brits. So why the hell are SNP politicians squandering OUR strength on telling us what we already know about their awfulness? Why are they not translating that strength into the effective political power which will extricate Scotland from this accursed Union? Why are they not using our authority to act?

And why are we not loudly demanding that they do so?



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A reluctant revolutionary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Conveniently unchangeable

Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed.

George Orwell – The Road to Wigan Pier

George Orwell can always be relied on for a thought-provoking quote. It’s many, many years since I read The Road to Wigan Pier, so I can’t claim to have any recollection of this little aphorism. I encountered it in some corner of the web that I wandered into on one of my virtual sojourns. Don’t ask me where. But it must have made an impression because it was still rattling about in my head a couple of days later. Almost as if it was nagging me for attention. So I’m giving it some that was going spare.

Having given it some thought I think I now know why these words lodged so stubbornly in my mind. It will hardly surprise anyone to hear that for “revolutionary opinion” I immediately read “restoration of Scotland’s independence”. I reckon advocating the abolition of the Union counts as a revolutionary opinion. Unionists certainly seem to think of it as such. But it was this idea of such views drawing strength from futility that I found simultaneously intriguingly counter-intuitive and strangely familiar. The feeling that it should be wrong, but isn’t.

I know it isn’t wrong because it relates to something in my own experience. Something I’d been puzzling about in some nook or cranny of my cluttered mind for some time. When no less a figure than George Orwell urges you to drag a thought out into the light for a bit of scrutiny, what else can you do?

In fact it didn’t take much scrutiny to figure out why this quote spoke to me as it did. For some time there’s been something curious going on in the minds of some Yes activists. I refer to the people who believe they are part of something which has the power to transform Scotland having defeated the efforts of the British state to preserve the Union. People, moreover, who reckon they can manipulate the voting system so as to win list seats and do something useful for the independence campaign once in Holyrood. These are people endowed with an uncommon belief in themselves. People convinced that they possess powers extending to the borders of the supernatural.

However, suggest to these people that they might usefully apply this power to restoring the essential political arm of the independence movement and mighty is the scoffing. Can’t be done! They won’t listen! They’ll never change! The only thing that distinguishes their conviction that nothing can be changed from that referred to by George Orwell is that it is far from secret. They’ll proclaim the inherent incorrigibility and innate immutability of the SNP leadership at the drop of a Tweet. They will reject outright any possibility of altering by so much as the proverbial bawhair the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue. And do so at the same time as insisting they can take a new party from a standing start to somewhere over 10% of the vote in a single election. All as part of a project which aims to do nothing less than save an entire nation from the scourge of rabid British nationalism.

Am I the only one who sees a contradiction here?

What Orwell’s insight did was start me wondering whether there might be some kind of positive, constructive tension in this contradiction. Even if it was no more than the kind of cussed contrariness which bids people of a certain character to defy the odds. Could the ‘cunning plans’ of the list parties be drawing strength from a conviction that nothing can ever change the SNP? Or is it more likely that they have found it necessary to convince themselves of the absolute intransigence of the SNP leadership in order to rationalise their ‘cunning plans’ to game the voting system? Plans which only make sense if the SNP isn’t part of the calculation.

I think Eric Blair (George Orwell) was on the right track, but slightly wide of the mark. Revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength not from the conviction that nothing can change, but from the expedient conviction that alternatives to that revolutionary opinion are infeasible. If one has set upon a particular position or course of action – or ‘cunning plan’ – then it is rather convenient to hold the view that competing positions and alternative courses of action are unworthy of consideration.



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Time to come home?

Immediate reaction to the suggestion that Scottish MPs are to be ‘locked out’ of the British parliament might range from a so-what shrug to a small celebration. I doubt if there was much ‘anger’ away from newspaper headlines. Any mention of the Scottish contingent at Westminster is as least as likely to prompt questions about why they’re there at all. There’s not much righteous indignation at the contempt shown to Scottish MPs left in Scotland. Ian Blackford has requisitioned it all. His not infrequent venting of that righteous indignation tends to prompt questions about the advisability of sitting right under Britannia’s arse if you don’t like being shat upon.

It’s difficult to get worked up about the British political elite’s casual contempt and calculated discourtesy because these things are so much part of our political life. I expect nothing else from the British state other than that it will treat Scotland in the manner it regards Scotland – as an annexed territory necessarily subordinate to ‘Mother England’. I expect better of our elected representatives than that they should meekly accept this inferior status even while complaining about it. I don’t know about anybody else but I’m more likely to be roused to anger by the fact that we still send supplicants to petition the British parliament for the boon of those things which less pusillanimous nations hold to be theirs by right than by the fact that those supplicants and petitioners are treated accordingly.

Outside the bubble of the SNP Westminster group, few ask why they are treated so badly by the British. Many more ask why they continue to submit to this treatment.

I shouldn’t have to explain that by ‘Scottish MPs’ I mean the 48 SNP MPs plus Neale Hanvey. The others are British MPs from British parties representing British interests. They cannot be regarded as Scottish MPs. The vicinity of Britannia’s arse seems the natural place for those who regard it as an honour to be in receipt of her excretions. The likes of Alister Jack and Ian Murray belong in the British parliament. They are British. They are proud to be British. And if the price of being British is being shat upon copiously and constantly then this is a price they will gladly pay. They accept that their associations with Scotland mean this is the best they can expect. Their expectations are well met.

What remains to be explained is why the Scottish MPs remain in Britannia’s chanty. A common view is that they are ‘in it for the money’. Or that they enjoy the status as well as the perks and privileges. Or that they’ve ‘gone native’. Some or all of these explanations may apply in greater or lesser measure to a few or many. But I find these explanations unsatisfying. Human motives and motivations are seldom if ever so simple and clear-cut. Even politicians – and even British politicians – are only rarely so shallow. And the shallowest of them are otherwise occupied squatting like malignant cuckoos on the opposition seats in the Scottish Parliament.

There is nothing wrong with appreciating the material rewards of any job if those rewards are earned. And for the most part, MPs work fairly hard. Sometimes very hard. The hours are unsocial the travelling is arduous the facilities are decrepit the bureaucracy is a mire the procedures are arcane the ceremonies are ludicrous much of the work is tedious the people you have to work with even more so and the job is extremely insecure. I wouldn’t do it for twice the money. Besides, people generally have to go through the mill just to become MPs. All that shaking sweaty hands and coming away with enough of somebody else’s faecal matter to test for prostate cancer. All that kissing snottery bairns smelling of shit and sour milk. All those single-issue obsessives with their four-hour ‘wee talks’ on urban foxes. All those damp and draughty halls with their junk PA systems that whine almost as much as the five people who’ve come along expecting free tea and scones. All those constituency selection panels making you feel like that nutter who brings their grandma’s collection of Frank Ifield memorabilia to the Antiques Road Show convinced it’s worth millions.

For me, they can have their salaries and their pensions and their expenses and their subsidised bars. None of it is enough to compensate for the crap they have to take in the course of their political careers.

I’ve less sympathy for the SNP MPs who have ‘gone native’. If indeed there are any. I find it difficult to believe they could ever be absorbed into a club which so evidently doesn’t want them as a member. But people can have a considerable capacity for convincing themselves. They may genuinely believe they have gained entry to the elite and might even persuade themselves that it is in order to better serve constituents and country. Invariably, they are being manipulated. It’s what the British establishment is good at. Perceived threats which can’t easily be crushed may always be neutralised by other means.

Ask those SNP MPs why they’re at Westminster and I’m sure they would make a convincing case that they’re doing a public service on behalf of the people in their constituency. And I don’t doubt that they try. They may even on occasion succeed. Even the British MPs from Scottish constituencies might do something helpful for their community from time to time. So long as it doesn’t impinge on their service to the British ruling elites. Or cause them any inconvenience. But SNP MPs have a very particular remit. They have a mandate. All power to them if they’re sorting out some single parent’s benefits or trying to bring meaningful employment to their constituency. But what about their role as champions of Scotland’s cause? What about their duty to work for the restoration of Scotland’s independence? How compatible is this with being at Westminster?

Might it not readily be argued that there is no more effective affirmation of the Union the SNP has undertaken to abolish than sending representatives to the place that more than any other represents the Union and all it implies for Scotland? Is there not an intolerable contradiction here?

The more we realise that Scotland’s independence will not be restored by any process involving the parliament of England-as-Britain the more difficult it becomes to justify the presence of SNP MPs in that parliament. They can do absolutely nothing for Scotland’s cause as members of the British parliament. Perhaps they might best serve that cause by coming home.



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I have questions

Like many people in Scotland, I suspect, I have been struggling to come to terms with a seemingly inexplicable contradiction. I can illustrate the problem with a couple of comments culled from Twitter – both from Nicola Sturgeon. (Ignore the BBC Tweets as you would normally.)

The first is a near-perfect political statement. The wording, the tone, the content, the entire package is almost flawless. I’d advise any politician to avoid phrases such as “I’ve made clear”. If you have made something clear then it should be clear and it must therefore be entirely redundant to state that you’ve made it clear. If you feel the need to state that you’ve made it clear then this can only be because you haven’t, in fact, made it clear at all. Or so people will tend to assume. It is one of those overused phrases which have come to suggest the very opposite of what it says. It’s the kind of thing people use when they want to caricature a generic politician. Unless you want to be that caricature, don’t say “I’ve made it clear”. You might as well end every statement with the words “Honest! Would I lie to you?”.

A textual analysis of that first post would strongly suggest an exceptionally astute politician and a very capable communicator. It’s hard to believe that the second example was authored by the same person. The words “It’s got nothing to do with the constitution” would be woefully naive enough coming from any politician. But from the leader of a party which has a fundamental constitutional issue at its very core, it is nothing short of jaw-droppingly stupid.

The leader of a party which has as its principal aim the restoration of Scotland’s independence should never be caught talking down the importance of constitutional matters. Their every instinct should be tuned to emphasising the overarching importance of the constitution. Because the constitution is about who decides. It is about where power lies and how it is used. It is about political legitimacy and authority. The constitution, and any issues or questions relating thereto, takes precedence over all matters of policy. It must do. Because the constitution defines, describes and delineates decision-making authority in all matters of policy. It is senseless to claim that anything has “nothing to do with the constitution” because the constitution has something to do with everything.

It is a doubly foolish remark on account of the angry denial of constitutional relevance being immediate followed by an observation which points up the relevance of the constitution as well as anything might. When Nicola Sturgeon says “the ‘stay at home’ message remains in place in 3 of the 4 UK nations” she is referring explicitly and directly to the constitutional issue of policy decision-making power. The contradiction is jarring. The statement as a whole speaks of a politician quite unlike the one revealed by the first Tweet. It suggests a politician who simply doesn’t understand the function and purpose of the constitution. How can the person who is so dismissive of the constitution possibly be the leader of a party whose constitution declares its first aim to be arguably the most fundamental constitutional reform there can be?

That is the nub of it. That is what I and others find both perplexing and disturbing. On the one hand we have someone who is all but universally acknowledged to be an outstanding politician. Someone who earns all the plaudits that come her way. Someone who deserves the trust that is placed in her by the public. Someone who, with due regard for her feminist credentials, is worthy of being described as ‘statesmanlike’.

On the other hand we have someone who bears ultimate responsibility for bringing the independence campaign to a grinding halt. It can readily and persuasively be argued that the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence has gone backwards under her stewardship. We look at Nicola Sturgeon’s record as First Minister and see mostly uncommon competence. We look at her record as de facto leader of the independence movement and see only serial misjudgement. We watch in admiration her handling of the current public health crisis. We watch in horror her handling of the constitutional issue. It’s as if we are looking at two different people.

Retiring SNP MSP James Dornan is also perplexed, it seems. If I understand aright from his column in The National, Mr Dornan is baffled by the fact that some people who in his opinion “should know better” are troubled by the ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ situation described above. He seems to be perplexed about why we are perplexed about the perplexing contradictions in Nicola Sturgeon’s comments and the curate’s egg of her performance.

In keeping with this incomprehension, Mr Dornan seems unable to distinguish between the SNP as an administration and the SNP as a political party. Not exactly a trivial distinction. He also appears to be a bit confused about the purpose of political campaigning. He is dismissive, if not disdainful, of those who maintain discourse in “their own bubble of like-minded people”. He neglects to explain how it can be both “their own bubble” and a bubble they share with “like-minded people”. More importantly, how and where does he imagine discourse relating to a particular issue might proceed other than in just such a bubble. Is it not to be expected that those involved in a campaign should be “like-minded”?

Contrary to what James Dornan seems to suppose, there is nothing at all wrong with ‘preaching to the choir’, as some would put it. How else might a campaign be developed and maintained other than by those involved talking to each other?

As if we didn’t already have a considerable surfeit of perplexity, I am unable to understand why the First Minister’s unquestionably laudable handling of the coronavirus pandemic would forfend criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in other areas. The good must be weighed with the bad. It might sensibly be argued that the good outweighs the bad. But it cannot reasonably be maintained that the good completely eradicates the bad. I recall being counselled by a very close friend who had a hard neck giving anybody relationship advice. He said that when a man sees a beautiful woman – poised, elegant, decorous – he should always bear in mind that she farts in bed. We all have our faults. Nobody is perfect. Although, if James Dornan is to be believed, Nicola Sturgeon comes very close. So long as we completely disregard the reality of what she has done to the independence campaign.

But, unsurprisingly, Mr Dornan agrees with Nicola Sturgeon that there should be no independence campaign at this time. We are all supposed to sit at home thinking about nothing else but Covid-19. We all must be totally and exclusively focused on coronavirus-related matters. To entertain so much as a passing thought on any matter other than the mono-crisis is to show callous disregard for those who have died, scant concern for those who may die and disrespect for the front-line key-worker heroes and angels who care for the suffering.

I exaggerate for effect, of course. James Dornan doesn’t go to such lengths. Although others certainly do. Nonetheless, his attitude is painfully reminiscent of the dour religionists who blighted many a childhood holiday on the Isle of Arran with the diktat proclaimed on behalf of a deity with too much time on her hands (she shouldn’t have made so much) that Sunday must be a day of profound and often inelegantly contrived inactivity. I well recall the swings and roundabouts ironically made equal in their uselessness by chains and padlocks. I still can hear the stern warnings from the Joysucker General’s deputies that to contemplate the kicking of a football on the Sabbath would result in consignment to a hell which to my child’s mind at least, could not possible be worse than the one I had to endure on a weekly basis.

One might wonder whether James Dornan is toying with damnation (inc. hellfire) by taking time out from his fretting over the virus to write a newspaper column. That, as they say, is between him and his conscience.

Similarly, Mr Dornan and those who populate his “bubble of like-minded people” take the view that all of politics and most of life has been brought to a halt by Covid-19. Which rather seems like conceding victory to the virus. This isn’t managing a crisis. It is being dominated by it. Managing a crisis is, almost by definition, keeping as much as possible as normal as possible under the circumstances. Which, incidentally, is what makes the First Minister’s management of the situation so admirable. She may not have been able to keep very much very normal, but she succeeds in persuading people that this is what she is striving for. And that the measures she has taken are normal under the circumstances.

I have to tell James Dornan that politics does not stop for a virus. Politics doesn’t stop for anything. All of life is politics. So long as there is human life there will be politics. Because politics is the management of power relationships – from the interpersonal all the way to the international and sooner than many imagine, the interplanetary. All human interactions are transactions conducted in the currency of power. From chimpanzees grooming in the forests of tropical Africa to ambassadors manoeuvring in the UN building in New York, it’s all politics. From the minute to the monumental, it’s all the power trades and trade-offs which allow society to function. Negotiations continue.

You can’t stop politics. Your involvement only ends with death. Sometimes not even then. You can opt out of certain aspects of the negotiations. But the politics goes on without you. And it may not be possible to catch up.

Here’s James Dorman,

Now, I’m a pretty tribal political animal but I would not be comfortable at all if our party was trying to put independence at the forefront of our thinking just now. Thankfully, outside of a few loud voices in Westminster and some activists online I think most of the party would agree with me.

Concentrate on seeing our people safely through this virus, get politics back to normal, or as normal as anything is going to be after this pandemic, and I have no doubt we will see the support for independence rise substantially.

James Dornan: Why independence cannot be the SNP’s priority for now

I have some questions. I have so many questions!

Those loud voices at Westminster and online may be few, but does that make them wrong? Why are there no such voices in Holyrood? Why only Westminster and online? Isn’t the Scottish Parliament the place where we would hope and expect voices to be raised in defence of Scotland’s cause?

Has the public really suspended all concerns other than the virus? Does Mr Dornan suppose we think and talk about nothing else? Given that it ranged over a multitude of topics which could not even pretend to be coronavirus-related, how strongly would James Dornan have disapproved of the WhatsApp video chat I enjoyed (and I mean enjoyed!) with a well-known independence activist yesterday?

How can independence not be the SNP’s priority now and always? How can independence not be at the forefront of the party’s thinking now and always? Has Mr Dornan ever read the party’s constitution? Has the commitment to restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status been removed?

Do any of of us need James Dornan to tell us that the public health crisis must be the Scottish Government’s priority right now? Would it not be more helpful if he used his column to explain why this necessarily means that the SNP and everybody else must cease and desist from all independence-related activity and even discussion until we’re told it’s OK to carry on?

Is James Dornan genuinely so ignorant of the real, on-the-ground effects of lockdown as to be unaware that there are thousands of people who are neither front-line nor key-workers but who are stuck at home abiding by our First Minister’s strictures and with little else to do but engage with others online? Is he truly oblivious to the opportunity that this affords the Yes campaign? Why is he so determined that we should not seize this opportunity? Why the intense effort by the SNP leadership to close down completely the entire independence campaign?

Does James Dorman seriously imagine that we will just be able to pick up where we left off? (Does anyone think that was a good place anyway?) Is he really pinning all our hopes for independence on a grateful electorate rewarding Nicola Sturgeon for her handling of the crisis – even when she herself has declared that “it’s got nothing to do with the constitution”?

Is James Dorman persuaded that the virus has stopped the forces of British Nationalism to the same extent as he hopes to stop the campaign for independence? Have his years in politics taught him nothing?

On one thing James Dorman and I agree. We are most certainly beset by “opportunists seeking to gain advantage, not for the cause of independence but for themselves”. We have the ‘cunning plan’ parties looking to exploit the very dissatisfaction with the SNP that he and his “bubble of like-minded people” have engendered. But what of those who are trying to silence Yes activists and put the entire independence campaign into a covid-induced coma? Should we not reckon on them having an agenda? Should we not suppose that they too are seeking advantage for themselves or something that is definitely not the campaign for independence?



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It’s not rocket surgery!

It is actually very simple. There are no circumstances in which we do not need an SNP administration following the next Scottish Parliament elections. NO circumstances! Regardless of whether the party makes any sort of commitment regarding independence, we still have to ensure an SNP administration.

I shouldn’t have to explain why this is. But for those already reaching for their ‘independence isn’t all about the SNP’ boilerplate, I’ll gently suggest that they still their jerking knees long enough to reflect on the alternative to an SNP administration.

Let me put it bluntly. If in the coming Holyrood election campaign you are not working flat out for the biggest SNP win possible, then you might as well go and work for the Tories. Because if we don’t get that decisive SNP win Jackson F Carlaw gets the keys to Bute House.

So, that’s our first priority sorted out. The second priority is to have that SNP administration committed to bold, decisive action in the first half of its term to facilitate the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination. A firm commitment. An iron-clad commitment. A commitment with a date and a timetable attached.

A commitment, what is more, to a process which keeps the organisation and management of the referendum entirely within Scotland. A commitment which categorically excludes any involvement from the British state or its agents.

I like to think of this as a Manifesto for Independence. Something quite separate and isolated from a party manifesto. A Manifesto for Independence to which any party or candidate might sign up regardless of their own policy platform or political agenda.

This Manifesto for Independence should be written by the Yes movement and presented to all of the parties standing in the election along with an ultimatum – a promise and a threat. Those who sign up to the Manifesto for Independence will have the electoral support of the Yes movement. Those who do not may anticipate the Yes movement’s best efforts to wipe them off the political map completely.

Forming and campaigning for cunning plan parties doesn’t make it onto our list of priorities. Because if our effort to ensure an SNP administration with a working majority fails then any MSPs from those parties will be powerless to do anything. And if that effort succeeds then those extra MSP’s will be superfluous to our needs.

Told you it was simple! Two priorities! Two tasks! Get on with it!



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A response

The following started as a response to a comment on an earlier article by someone I assume to be Stu Campbell of Wings Over Scotland. If I have misidentified the individual in question then I apologise to both the parties concerned and to my readers. As you can see, the comment turned into a bit of an outpouring. I make no apology for this. I would only ask that as you read it you are mindful of its somewhat accidental origins. I intend this to be my last comment on the issue of ‘list parties’ and ‘cunning plans’ in general. We’ll see.

Recipe for success

It is to be expected that many of those who have been taken in by the novelty of the list party fantasy will resolve the conflict with their support for independence by convincing themselves that encouraging voters to abandon the SNP cannot possibly have any ‘unfortunate’ consequences. They are absolutely persuaded of the efficacy of their magic solution and cannot tolerate that being questioned. Not even in their own minds. Especially not in their own minds.

Life’s experience has taught me to be extremely wary of such evangelical fervour. I find cynicism a more substantial shield than delusion.

We saw – and still find – this near-religious belief in consequence-free action among those I have branded ‘The Postponers’. That is to say, those who adhere to Pete Wishart’s faith in the existence of an ‘Optimum Time’ (for a new independence referendum) which will come to us as surely as the dawn if only we take patience to a ‘higher plane’ where it morphs into a kind of intellectual hibernation. Just as ‘The Postponers’ will not entertain questions about the implications of delay, so believers in the pure power of the list party cannot abide to have their dogma challenged.

But those of us who are disinclined to abandon their intellectual capacity for the false comfort of religious faith realise that actions always have consequences. And that, especially dealing with people, and even more so when dealing with people en masse, there is no necessary mechanical relationship between the action and its consequences. People are complicated. Relationships between and among people are complicated. The relationships between deeds and their effects could hardly be the exception that the faithful need theirs to be.

The consequences for Scotland’s cause of abandoning the SNP as the lever by which our nation’s independence will be restored are potentially catastrophic. To contemplate any action which has this effect must be to gamble with the cause. One might sensibly argue that the consequences are minor. One cannot sensibly assert the absence of any consequences. To sensibly argue that the consequences are minor one would necessarily have to identify those consequences and make a persuasive case for them being trivial. One would also be obliged to rule out all other possible and possibly more serious consequences. This would be a rational response to those who question the proposed action. This would, in fact, be the rational approach to formulating the proposal. Healthy cynicism bids one question everything, first and foremost one’s own preconceptions and prejudices.

This is most assuredly not what is happening either in the case of the indefinite postponement of a new referendum or as regards a list party ‘strategy’ to flood the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs.

The list party strategy is being sold entirely and exclusively on the basis of a presumed highly desirable effect. Look at this wonderful outcome! Would you like to have this wonderful outcome? Then do as we say without question! The strategy is presumed to be ‘The Solution’ in the same way that the Union is presumed by Unionists to be the ideal constitutional settlement. Its wondrousness does not have to be proved. It just is!

I’m not buying it! Being more open-minded than adherents to the faith, I accept that it is possible the strategy might work. If absolutely everything goes as its proponents insist it will and if absolutely nothing deviates from that in the slightest way there is a theoretical possibility that the outcome might be some approximation of that which is promised. Being a cynic, however, I am bound to observe that this would not be characteristic of the real world. If things don’t always go wrong then the precautionary principle demands that we assume many things will go wrong. We plan for reality. No matter how dull and boring that may be.

I am an ‘ordinary’ person to the same extent that any of us conform to such a standard. I am a citizen of Scotland and a voter. I am not untypical of the people who must be persuaded if the list party strategy is to have any chance of working in the way its advocates insist it will. Not only am I not persuaded, but no effort is being made to persuade me. The list party strategy is being sold to me, but nobody is making a persuasive rational case for it. It is being sold to me in the same way as online adverts try to sell solutions which will transform your ten-year-old Dell laptop into a super-computer. Look at what it does! Don’t ask how it does it! And definitely don’t wonder out loud how something powerful enough to do what is promised can have no side-effects.

Open as I am to the idea that the list party strategy might work in something like the way promised I cannot accept that it is the ideal solution. Because not being blinkered by a prior commitment to this novel strategy I am unable to ignore the other strategy. The one we’ve had for as long as might as well be forever. The one we have used before. The one that is tried and tested. The one that has been examined and scrutinised and interrogated and found to have no significant deleterious consequences. The one which, even if it hasn’t been entirely successful up to now, at least has a well-established potential to bring success. Nobody, as far as I can tell, is arguing that using the SNP as the tool with which to restore Scotland’s independence cannot work. Nobody – other perhaps that the odd obvious nutter – is suggesting that using this tool that we have already fashioned for the purpose would risk catastrophe for Scotland’s cause. The thing about using the SNP as has always been the intention is that if it fails, it fails safe.

That there are problems with the SNP is undeniable. I would be the last person to deny it. I have hardly been anyone’s idea of the party loyalist. But I don’t look at the faults and failings and immediately assume the tool is fucked beyond any possible utility. I ask WHY it is not working. Or has not worked. And I conclude that it hasn’t worked because we are not using it properly. As is so often the case, it’s user-error. Rectify the user-error and we have the powerful tool we need. It is not necessary to go running around looking for an alternative. What we have is perfectly adequate for the task. What we have would be ideal if we applied our energies to deploying it in such a way as to realise its potential. And if it still fails, it fails safe. Or at least relatively safe.

I ask questions. All the time, I ask questions. I hope and strive to ask every possible question. And to recognise every possible answer. That won’t happen. But I find it a useful way of approaching problems. For example, I ask what is the worst possible outcome of the next Scottish Parliament election. (I trust we’re all agreed that this should be our focus at the moment.) I identify the worst possible outcome as the British parties retaking control of our Parliament. That is the stuff of nightmares for anyone who cares about Scotland. The alternative to an SNP administration is a ‘Scottish’ Tory government serving its masters in London without the slightest regard for the interests of the people of Scotland. It’s a no-brainer! Whatever else the Yes movement does as a force in Scottish politics we MUST ensure a decisive win for the SNP in 2021 – or whenever the election is held.

This is so important, so crucial, that it must be the focus of all our energies. We simply cannot afford to give the slightest impression that it is not vital to vote SNP. It doesn’t matter if we’re saying its OK not to vote SNP in the regional vote only, there is no way of avoiding this message spilling over into the constituency campaign. That is just one of the consequences that the list party advocates decline to address. It is a consequence which cannot sensibly be dismissed, The situation is such that even a small negative effect on the SNP vote could have massive implications.

Naturally, I also ask what would be the best outcome of the next Holyrood election. The outcome I, would wish for both in the context of good governance and in consideration of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. The outcome I identify is a massive victory for the SNP. A substantial majority necessarily made up of both constituency and regional seats. Ideally, 50%+ in both votes. Thus we create the lever that will be strong enough to break open the British state and allow Scotland to escape the Union.

It is the only way we can create such a lever. Even if the list strategy worked perfectly and didn’t lose us the pro-independence majority and SNP administration it’s outcome would not produce a lever such as the SNP might be. We are working within the British political system. We have no choice but to do so. That is what there is until we can create and fully implement a system of our own. The British political system responds only to brute strength. It is vulnerable only to brute strength as typified by first-past-the-post, winner-take-all elections. It follows that in order to break the British state in the ways that we must be strong according to the criteria recognised by the British political system. That means channelling all our strength through one party. And only the SNP can serve this purpose.

This is not a proposal for a one-party state as some exceptionally shallow people may shrilly insist. It is a one-party solution to a particular problem. A problem which cannot otherwise be resolved.

A ‘Rainbow Parliament’ may sound wonderful. There is good reason to suppose it would be wonderful. Or pretty good. There is cause to suppose this is what will arise as Scotland develops a distinctive political ethos. But a multi-party situation would be utterly useless to the independence movement. Worse than useless. It would maximise potential divisions of the kind that the British political elite is so adept at exploiting. It just wouldn’t have the clout. It wouldn’t work. So, even if the list party strategy succeeds in it own terms, it inevitably fails in terms of restoring Scotland’s independence. And there’s always the other consequences – up to and including the risk of losing the SNP administration and/or the pro-independence majority, both of which are vital.

The worst thing about the alternative party proposals is not the disregarded potential consequences. The worst this is not the risk involved. The worst thing is that it is pointless. It is unnecessary. It serves no purpose. Not so long as we have and use the SNP. The worst thing is not that the tool we’re being offered is a very poor tool. The worst thing is that we are being asked to shun the tool that we know with something approaching absolute certainty can be effective if we use it well!

In arguing for the novelty of their wondrous solution the advocates of the various ‘cunning plans’ that have proliferated since 2014 point with bitterness at the SNP’s failures over that same period. The opportunities that have been missed. This argument only has persuasive power to the extent that we assume the SNP is necessarily like this. That it must inevitably fail us. That it will always miss opportunities. That the way things have been is the way they must always be. That the Yes movement – including SNP members – lacks the power to change things. If that is the case, Scotland’s cause is doomed.

If the Yes movement lacks the power to influence its own de facto political arm what possible hope might there be that we might influence affairs such as to bring our government home and build a better Scotland and create a better society and follow our aspirations rather than being driven by our fears. If we cannot harness the effective political power of the SNP in the service of Scotland’s cause then the question must be asked whether we are even fit to call ourselves the sovereign people of Scotland.



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